Pablo 2.0

For context, read ‘Pablo’ here.

*

I went to McDonalds at Waterloo to buy a cup of Fanta to pour my vodka into. As I was doing so, an announcement sounded over the tannoy:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY.

A modern air-raid siren began wailing, echoing through the suddenly silent station. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared at each other, unsure what to do. Whispers of “terror attack” rolled through the concourse first in rivulets, then intensifying in power, tsunami-like, as it gathered more fear, more panic. Most people up and left, scrambling for the nearest exit, pushing each other out of the way. The staff behind the counter slowly disappeared into back-rooms. The guy next to me took his headphones off and watched me unscrew the vodka bottle while listening to the announcement:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY

and then:

OFFICER *crackling noises* DOWN.

The guy looked up at me and asked, “Is this for real?” “Sounds like it, but who knows,” I replied, mixing my drink with a straw, half-anticipating the sound of gunshots. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, init,” he said, biting into his hamburger and putting his headphones back on. Then the tannoy shouted:

REPEAT, OFFICER SANDS, STAND DOWN.

I shrugged at the guy and he laughed, shoving fries into his mouth.

Outside, Southwark smelled of burnt rubber and sour milk. It turned my stomach.

*

I’d last seen her fourteen months ago. In fact, that was the first and only time I’d met her. I saw her every day in the postcard tacked to my mirror, but I hadn’t expected to see her in the flesh ever again. I was frightened of her because she looked like me and I am frightened of myself. I had assumed that she’d have been moved on, moved to a different city, to be pored over by fresh, foreign eyes. I was shocked when I entered the room and she was there, in the corner, right where I’d left her.

She was bigger than I remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. I watched the people looking at her. Well, they weren’t really looking at her, they were taking photos of her on their smartphones, looking at a version of her on a 5 x 3in illuminated screen. Nobody actually looked at her, even though I could hear her screaming, “LOOK AT ME! FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” from behind the glass. I was scared to get close because I had a feeling that she’d reach out and grab me and keep me and refuse to let me go. But as soon as I was in front of her, I found myself a nose away from her nose. So close that I could see a rogue hair from Picasso’s paintbrush stuck in the oil.

At one point, she and I were the only true living things in the room. Dali et al were dying around us, fading into insignificance before disappearing from the walls entirely. I found myself smiling because we share a secret. She knows what I know. I felt the presence of a security guard hovering on the periphery. I stepped away from her, turned my back and began to walk away. Dali had returned to the opposite wall. I thought, and genuinely believed, for some reason, that she was no longer on the wall behind me. I quickly turned around, expecting there to be a blank space where she once had lived. I was relieved that she was still there. I felt so bad for turning my back on her, for abandoning her. She looked to be in more pain than she was before. I felt that I’d betrayed her. I went back to her and stood close.

Lost in our shared grief, my focus blurred and I found myself looking instead at my own reflection in her glass cover. I was struck by how unwell I looked. My eyes, usually kind, soft, approachable, were glazed and full of terror, like a rabid fox. I looked wild. “Help,” I whispered, reverting my gaze from my own eyes to hers. I didn’t realise I was crying until a teenaged boy in a group of Spanish schoolchildren pointed at me and said, “Look! The Weeping Woman!” and they all laughed, then started taking selfies with the only other weeping woman in the room, the one on the wall in the corner, trapped behind glass.

*

Back at Waterloo, it was business as usual. A false alarm, it seemed. Exhausted, I got on the Tube and promptly put my sunglasses on despite it being late in the evening. Eyes are too powerful. I didn’t want to look at anyone’s eyes or have anyone see mine. I’d seen enough eyes for one day. Suddenly, an announcement crackled over the system:

Ladies and gentlemen, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment due to a person on the track. I repeat, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment because there is currently a person on the track. The next station will be Charing Cross, next station Charing Cross. Mind the doors.

A woman down the carriage tutted too loudly, and the drunk man opposite me slurred, “Fuckin’ people on tracks, man, f’fer’fucksake.” I closed my eyes and filed the day away with all the others in my brain, in the folder marked: Another Sad and Strange Saturday Night in the Greatest City in the World.


Originally published on Hijacked Amygdala here.

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