The Commute


I sit on an early morning train to London. There is no daylight yet, although the warmth of summer is still strong. My eyes want to go back to sleep. Passing alongside the Thames I spot a great heron. She tells me that she too is falling asleep, dreaming of flooded meadows and willow seeds in the air. I hear fingers tapping, their sound make the train move again towards the new day. I smell coffee , croissants, cloth detergent and deodorant. We pass through fields, orange and blue clouds go in the opposite direction, strange buildings of all shapes run alongside us. The train continues to collect the herds taking us all to the hardship of the real world. But for now the carriage is our little bubble, where we feel like free travellers, we can imagine that we are on a holiday. We deceive time and ourselves.

We slow down and the old new sounds of the station's tannoy wake us up, this is it, the limbo ends here. Like robots we move in set directions, never slowing down nor looking back. We do not even need to open our eyes, guided by an internal mechanism that works perfectly. There are thousands of us, all on our own. Back at home my wife and two girls are still sleeping, dreaming of winter seas and pink unicorns. I get out into the already steaming streets of this big city getting ready, in a hurry as always, for this new day of July. There is more coffee in the air, and fruit and newspapers with full-colour stories that are almost true. The city is welcoming me back, telling me lies about how much it missed me during the short night. I see the same other commuters, and waiters and street cleaners. Their faces have changed but they are always the same.

Lancaster Gate, and I am drawn into this wonderland. Commuters turn here instantly into joggers trying to escape their own thoughts. Meditation for those who can't stay still. I turn left towards the corner where Tyburn once stood, celebrating the slow deaths of prisoners. We welcome this fantasy world that has taken five hundred years to shape, and it will still need another million to get completed. I choose my path through the labyrinth. I avoid repetition, an ironic thought when done each day, morning and evening. Like the meditating joggers, I escape my own thoughts. I pass the point over the lost river Westbourne buried underground. Its grey waters carry me southbound and I see the remains of long gone vices. All of it is taken by the river into the Serpentine. Harriot, the wife of Sherlley the poet, is here. She wanted it to end here, with her unborn baby and her love curse.

Why do we need the park, what are these thousands of souls gaining from their time here. Is it like a giant temple, and the birds are the preachers? or a cemetery where we come to remember lost ones, or a bed where we recover, a hiding place, a meeting point. It is a property that we all lease.

Once, I did my commute through Hyde Park accompanied by a work colleague. When we arrived at the office, I sat down at my desk and felt the urge to leave and go back to the train station, do the commute through the city again. It felt as if my morning routine was lost, I didn't feel prepared to start my day without it. I had not seen the birds nor the joggers, I could not tell what the water at the Serpentine looked like today. Lost in conversation the outside world disappeared, part of a magic trick. I did not remember anything, as if abducted into an inner world by my own brain.

Like the April's Heart of the song, someone had robbed me of the only worthy part of my working day of July, with my permission, but I wanted it back now. In the lunch break I tried to recover that sense of freedom walking along the shore of the Thames. I was accompanied by a lady looking for old fragments of pottery, metal buttons, coins... little pieces of the old London buried in the mud of the low tide. I was abducted again.

We buy TV sets before we buy food. The hunger of the soul overcomes the other. What unique animals we are that need to be fed stories three times a day. An old lady sits on a bench looking at the Serpentine waters. She is there every morning. Her face changes, but I know it is her in a brilliant disguise. She looks at the joggers, and then the birds at the banks, the gardeners, then more birds. She stays there listening and watching a young woman feeding pigeons and geese. She is here every morning too, completing her part of the ritual. I leave them, going along another path southbound, wondering what they might do when I'm not there to watch.

I read about how our sense of having a body with limits is a deception of our clever brain, a trait of evolution that keeps us alive. Millions of years of deception upon deception. But we are made of billions of tiny things. Are the bacteria in my gut me? Are the mites on my skin part of it? Is this moment, this morning, just this moment? We may evolve even further for another million aeons until past and present and us and them are all one.

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