Art Pact 190 - Platform Entanglement


Crowded onto the platform, I tried to worm my way between one person and the next but the crush was too great to allow any movement. We were locked in place like atoms in a block of metal, and our energy was only serving to heat us up as we jostled back and forth. I felt elbows push into my sides, and I elbowed back, not knowing whether I was giving back as good as I'd got to my tormentors or simply passing on the pain to some fresh innocent. From above it must have looked laughable, but the grim-faced workers in the gantry simply stared down on us in silence, every so often stopping dead still too so that they seemed to be modern-day gargoyles perched above.

I at least still had Maggie, although I could feel already that our connection was fraying into something more tenuous. We had been arm-in-arm when we got to the station, the side of her body pressed up against me so that the curve of her left breast had been caressing my bicep. Now we were hand-in-hand, and even that grasp weakened as people crowded in on us, pushing against our outstretched arms, painfully prodding the joints to travel the wrong way. I felt her grip slacken just as my own did, but managed to push forward and reconnect again, palm-to-palm, clasping onto her as the only solid reference point.

"Please keep clear of the platform edge!" one of the station workers called from back on the stairs. I could see him, raised up a few steps, but he too was rapidly disappearing as more and more people trickled down past him. There was no hope that any of us would be able to back away with the others coming in behind us, indeed I could see in the other direction a tall balding man leaning backwards, pushing against the crowd moving down. There was no-one further on than him, so I surmised that he must be on the brink of the platform, well past the yellow line, fighting for his life - or at least for his footwear.

Fortunately his fight was not in vain. The ceiling lightened behind him, and for a moment I wondered why until a cheer began at the far end of the platform and I saw the silvered roof of a train appear and begin to slide past the ranks of people. It was travelling slow, but that was just as well - I heard various bumps and thumps as it still clipped those unfortunates who had been pushed over the edge proper and were just holding on by the efforts of friends. The train pushed them out of the way, forcing them back onto the platform bruised but probably free of serious harm, but there must have been a lot of them, because the crowd grew tighter still. My arm, crushed, jerked in a reflex and pulled away from Maggie's. I tried to force it out again, to reconnect, but the gap had closed up.

"Don't panic!" I shouted to her. She may have called something back to me, but it was drowned by the sudden nonsense babbling of the crush around us, so many people speaking excitedly at once that there was no way to distinguish any individual from among them: "Underneath", I heard, and "Consequence", and a thousand syllables crashing against each other.

The train rolled to what I assume was the buffer, because I heard a solid thunk and the sound of metal grinding against metal before the train finally came to a halt. The crowd surged closer, but the doors remained closed and the station workers embedded like impurities in the crowd itself were yelling at people to wait, that somehow (god knows how, I thought) the current passengers would have to be let off. I didn't see that happening, unless those on the train already were going to crowd-surf their way out on top of the rest of us. The station had a trick up its sleeve, though - because what little I could see of the incumbents showed me that they were heading away from the near end of the train, draining away somewhere near the tail carriage. I guessed that the train must have opened a single set of doors on the other side - the side away from the platform - and the passengers were simply jumping down onto the rails and walking along the length of the train to the buffers. I saw yellow-vested workers pushing closer there, where the crowd was slightly thinner, and leaning over to hoist out exhausted and bedraggled men and women. The edge of our crowd reached for them, like the tentacles of so many anemones trying to catch their prey, but the platform staff were too quick for them, whisking the previous passengers away before they could be trapped and interrogated.

It was at that point that I knew somehow that I did not want to be on the train when it left. I tried to retreat - but of course the crowd had other ideas. It pinned me in place, although my recalcitrance caused whorls to form around me, the people to the left and right of my pushing forward faster in comparison. I knew that there was not enough room in the train for everyone on the platform - not for half, a quarter even - and I fought harder to hold my ground, knowing that the others would push past me and fill it up before the crowd could compel me inside.

Then I saw the scrunchie. The purple glittered scrunchie that I had last seen at the top of the stairs when Maggie turned away from me to look back into the street. I'd thought it behind me, but now it was ahead - out of arm's reach, maybe two meters away, the scrunchie itself and the ponytail springing from it, both just about poking out above the shoulder of a young man.

She would make it, I realised. Maggie would be on the train.

I stopped my retreat, and began to push forward desperately.

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