Fellowes hung limply from the ceiling strap and let the tube’s motion swing his body from side to side. The pinstriped mid-level manager at his shoulder silently bubbled garlic in serial belches. Fellowes turned his head away and scrutinised the seated passengers. He wondered what was going through their minds.
A pretty Chinese girl pretended to read a book; eyes red-rimmed, blinking back tears. A young man with prematurely receding hair, shamelessly excavated his nose. Further along, a middle-aged Indian woman dozed.
Every so often as her head slumped forward, she’d jerk herself awake and slowly the process would begin all over again.
Fellowes caught an impenetrable snippet of conversation between two well-heeled young slickers: ‘…Basil was held captive by these people for three years and as you’ve seen, the result was those King Charles spaniels…’ Fellowes smiled, his gaze traveled down through the carriage where he briefly caught the eye of an elderly Malay man who nodded in the companionable sodality of shared discomfort.
Sion is the author of The Sleepwalker’s Introduction to Flight
With a lurch that almost wrenched his arm from its socket the train stopped dead. The carriage lights flickered off and a metallic announcement crackled out from the tannoys: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this train will terminate at the next station… hopefully.’
Now he was going to be spectacularly late. The Senior Traders could forget about their early morning coffee, at this rate they’d be lucky to get bedtime cocoa.
The speakers crackled back to life. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this train will now….no, hang on….’ There was a further hiatus followed by a curiously abrupt silence. Fellowes hoped it was terminal; a put-upon commuter finally run amok perhaps.
The lights came back on, he braced his arm against the strap and the train lurched forward once again.
The carriages emptied out at Tanjong Pagar where Fellowes joined the struggling crowds on the platform. A mere ten minute brisk walk to the Fuji Xerox Towers now.
An armpit of a breeze, moist and acrid wafted up the tracks providing some small relief after the stuffiness of the carriage. Commuters jostled each other in their single-minded determination to be first for the stairs, the garlic-belcher shoved past him and although Fellowes was in a hurry, he hung back, waiting for the crowds to clear. The girl with the red-rimmed eyes stood patiently beside him.
Strangely, the mob began to retreat, surging backwards down the escalator, parting to reveal an old drunk standing unsteadily at the top like the last defender in a besieged tower. He brandished his penis like a weapon, holding-off commuters by periodically urinating down upon them; switching the spray on and off like a stopcock through the judicious pressure of his thumb and forefinger. Now and then an intrepid worker attempted an escalade but was beaten back.
‘You want gold, come and get some, you greedy bastards,’ bawled the tramp.
Fellowes sneaked a quick look at the young girl by his side. The eyes went first; tiny creases appeared in the corners while her mouth arced slowly upwards as though on invisible threads. She laughed; a contagious giggle to which Fellowes quickly succumbed.
Others in the rear echelons began to chuckle too. Within seconds the glum, disconnected rabble became an audience. Even applauding when the tramp, finally out of ammunition, tucked his penis away and capered drunkenly about upon his perch. The top of the escalator; his territory as of right, he’d earned it. He’d fought for it with the only means at his disposal and so the grinning salary-men and women paid a toll of a dollar or fifty cents as they passed.
He’d made them laugh and that was kind of cool.