strangers in paradise
I am trying to get used to taking pictures again on the Tube, but it's really hard trying to remain inconspicuous when the camera in your hands is bigger than your whole face. The picture isn't that great to be honest, though I guess it'll just take a bit more time and practice – I am shooting in full manual for some obscure reason, trying to get a feel for working out exact exposures until I feel comfortable with it all. Shooting in this mode besides Aperture Priority means I'm way out of my comfort zone.
For once, this is a picture that actually has a bit of background to it. I have to get it off my chest, and though it's not technically the best ones I have ever taken (I think it's a really bad photograph to be quite honest with you), I don't know why it has struck a nerve with me. When you work eight hours a day for London Underground, five to nine days straight, you just get sick of the people and the environment sometimes. It grates on you a lot sometimes. Don't get me wrong – I love my job and sometimes it really does have it's rewards, especially when members of the public are appreciative of your existence, but other times, you just hate it and get so tired. This partly explains why my tendency to obsess and photograph on the Tube has become somewhat tame – it is no longer an obsession. When it comes to the commute, I stopped paying attention a long time ago. I switch off. I try to block it out – click my heels – and repeat in my head, "There's no place like home."
This afternoon's journey home from Covent Garden however was different. For starters, the train caught me off guard lurching out of Covent Garden, causing me to lose my footing as I was approaching a seat, and rather than grab a handrail, I wrapped myself around my camera to shield it from any oncoming bump or knock, resulting in my basically falling over some woman who was already sat down. Thankfully, she was aware enough to drop her book in time to catch me and push me back onto my feet. I apologised profusely. She said not to worry, and in fact, was really nice about the whole thing. I sank into the seat next to her, somewhat embarrassed about the whole thing and paranoid that everybody was still watching, so I looked straight ahead.
And there he was. It was his t-shirt that seemed to do it for me – it drew me in – two comic-book eyes staring right back at me. Then his red star badge glistened under the carriage's strip lights, twinkling in my eyes. He had good taste – he was reading some sort of book on etymology.
No – I didn't spontaneously fall in love with him. You know how I mentioned the fact I switched off on the Tube a long time ago? Well – this guy was the fresh 9V battery that I needed to complete the circuit for me. I was curious. Really curious. Interested. Intrigued. Any other words of relevance beginning with the letter 'I'.
Occasionally, he would peer up from his book rather nervously, look from side to side, look straight at me, straight through me, and then returned to his book. He seemed rather withdrawn – arms tucked in against the armrests. I noticed he had hearing aids for both ears, and when I snapped him at that moment as he was turning the page, he did not register the sound of me releasing the shutter. I felt bad about this. I felt like for that moment, I'd just captured his awkward and withdrawn soul. He did not seem to notice me fiddling about with my camera afterwards, even though I could see that other people were watching me somewhat suspiciously. I didn't feel comfortable with taking another, better, shot. This would have to do.
On his left arm, he had a black inked tattoo of some sort of skeletal structure. Very simple, but very dark and quite seemingly newly applied and healed up – ready to wear. On his right arm he had a bandage, from just below his wrist to just above the elbow. I followed the bandage up his right arm. There was a long, deep scar that rested just above the bandage. Scanning around it, I noticed fainter scars at all angles around his arm. We were pulling away from Gloucester Road by this point when he looked up again, quickly glancing at the station name as we disappeared into the tunnel. He hurriedly closed his book and sat it on his lap when he reached down for his rucksack at his feet, his left arm almost fully extended as he picked his bag up.
He was covered in many frighteningly deep scars. For a few seconds, my eyes rested on his arms and I tell you now that it was almost impossible to count how many scars there were. Silvery lines that shone dull under this tungsten lighting. We were just pulling into Earl's Court by this point – I tried to look away – I looked over to a woman sat two seats from him, and she was looking at him in sheer disgust. But it's hard for me to describe the look on my face and what I was feeling at the time. I must've felt sad or sorry for him, but I think it made me take a good look at myself – he very much reminded me of how I was a few months ago. I quickly tried to look and see whether there were any fresh cuts – I know it sounds wrong, and this is hard to explain too, but I just wanted to know 'where' he was. This is when I nervously started to stroke my left arm (as it's one of those things I do to comfort myself, as I like being stroked there as it's a stark contrast to what I used to do...).
Then he got up. We were pulling into Earl's Court. I could feel my body react to the inertia. The woman further down was still looking at him the way she was. He was holding onto a handrail whilst he put on rucksack, and that's when he turned and caught me looking too. It was weird – our eyes connected, and I think I sent a message across saying that I felt sad, but also, "I've been there. It's not cool. I'm recovering. I can see... you're trying to recover too."
The train stopped. And he smiled at me. It was such a sad, heart-wrenching smile, but you could see deep in his eyes, something inside of him was saying that he was holding on. And that's when he let go of the handrail. He brushed his left arm with his right hand and quietly shuffled away.