Surfinias Are Everywhere

It’s Sunday, June 20th, 1999. On this lovely day I’m travelling home.

Not-My-Home is Holloway Road and I’m wondering what other people do on a quiet summer Sunday in this place. There are people around not carrying bags. Do they live here? How can it be possible to live here?

If I started walking now, heading north, south, east or west, how long would it take me to be in countryside? Too long. I’m glad I’m going home.

Signs of activity are few. Boards outside cafes tempt Sunday moochers with “ALL DAY BREAKFAST,” and “SPECIAL SUNDAY ROAST.” Only £3.95. Moochers are few. I’m trying hard to make sense of why anybody would want to linger here long enough to eat. People who live here and people who work here? It’s not a part of London for tourists. What is there to see? Decay. Things that are broken, and it’s too late for repair. Anything new looks temporary. Small shops, lots of bargains and quick profits, plastic fascia and lettraset signs; not staying long. Me neither. I’m a traveller and the tourists are somewhere else.

Sunday, June 20th. Tomorrow is the summer solstice and yesterday was her birthday. If it were Friday, this road would be buzzing with activity. People work here and go somewhere else on Sunday. If it were Friday there would be more of us, workers, travellers and moochers. Did she choose today, this day, because yesterday was her birthday and there is a letter in her bag from her mother? Or did she choose this day, today, because this day is Sunday and Holloway Road is decaying and the tourists are somewhere else?

I don’t like crossing Holloway Road. It’s wide and straight and the traffic sweeps through. This road is a thoroughfare. It’s coming from somewhere else and it wants to go somewhere else. I’m trying to be here because this is where I am, feeling small and fragile at this moment, and easily broken. I hold my breath as I step off the pavement like it’s Friday. But it’s Sunday. Very few vehicles to dodge on this day. I look back when I am safe and I see the flowers for the first time. “Surfinias are everywhere,” I tell my partner. “Look at them. Even Holloway Road has Surfinias.” He’s not listening. He lives here, but he hasn’t noticed them. Swaying masses of colour outside pubs. Huge, living pendulums dragging down crumbling archways. “Look,” I say, “They’re so vibrant and vigorous.” He’s not listening. His intention is fixed on the destination, mine on the journey, the path that brings me and others to this place at this time.

John is hurrying me. “We’re already late,” he says. I’m trying to slow it all down to the speed of comforting communication. John is settling uncomfortably into the role of person who gets us there. I’m here. He’s somewhere else.

Here is the station. It’s dank and dark and cool inside. I forget where I’m going. John doesn’t. He has the money ready and he buys the tickets. I watch as no hands touch. Money into the tray, tickets out of the tray. I wonder. John doesn’t. He has lived in this place long enough to pass through without wonder.

Here is the platform. We must have come down in the lift, but when I look back from a safe place that scene is missing. We sit on a bench. Here is the tunnel. The train will come from here and we will get in the last carriage. John says the last carriage is always empty on a Sunday.

I don’t know if she’s here yet, or if she will walk past while I am somewhere else. Tel Aviv is across the track, enticing travellers. I am a traveller. I want to go there. John says only the tourists read the posters.

I lie back in a deck chair and the sea laps around my feet, cool, gentle and comforting. The sky is clear blue, fills my field of vision and John is a long way off in Holloway Road tube station, looking into an empty black hole. I’m still floating in the azure when I hear the train, singing along the tracks, “I’m coming. I’m coming.” The sea is still lapping around my feet when I hear the train, nearer and nearer, rattling through the tunnel, “I’m coming.” There is a movement in the Tel Aviv sky, a billowing of fabric to the left of my field of vision. Tel Aviv is on my right. The grey front of the train is on my left, in the black mouth of the tunnel. Something is floating in the airstream, halfway to Tel Aviv.

STOP! NO!

It’s wrong. It’s not right. I draw a breath and hold it. When it comes out, it comes dragging a sound from somewhere deep and dreadful, deep and full of dread.

“No.”

And now I am looking at the train. And under it, under it is something soft and fragile, and it must be broken beyond repair.

I want not to be here. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. People on the platform, Train on the tracks. People on the train. Train leaves the station.

People are moving. Further along the platform are people who are unaware of this fracture in the fabric of life in this place. These are the people who do not know, or do not care that the last carriage is always empty. A woman asks me what has happened. Only two carriages have arrived. The last one is a long way back in the tunnel.

I tell her.

I tell her that a young woman is under the train. I’m trying to

tell myself that this is true. Train, platform, tracks. She was on the track. Now the train is here. She flew through the air. She landed on the track and the train went over her. I don’t know how to describe the slow-motion film now playing to the left of my field of vision.

When the day speeds up again, men in yellow tabards are flying down the stairs. The driver is being helped from the cab. John is telling me that I have to give someone my name and address. I am a witness.

I don’t want to be a witness. I want to go home. She did not ask me if I wanted to be a witness. She did not ask my permission to involve me in the drama of her life. Excuse me, I would have said no. I have a ticket to travel from Holloway Road to Marylebone, Marcia. I did not ask for a ticket to a ringside seat in your carefully planned last act.

John has found a policeman with a notebook. He wants me to tell the policeman my name and address.

I wonder why John didn’t do that. I wonder if he knows who I am. John is here now. I am somewhere else.

In ordinary reality I walk out of the station into bright sunlight. Fire engines and ambulances are there, confirming that something serious has happened here on this day. I want to go quickly. I do not want to see her leave the station. She will not walk out in the ordinary reality of this day, this Sunday, the day after her birthday, with cards in her bag and a letter from her mother, and keys to the house where she does not live anymore. When did she walk into the station? Was she in the lift with us? Did I look at her face and wonder who she was and where she was going?

Here I am in the cafe. The board outside still reads “ALL DAY BREAKFAST.” Everything in this place is as it was before. It should be different, but it isn’t. It is unchanged, and I am changed by what has just happened along the road. People are sitting at tables. People are eating. It’s a cafe. That’s what people do in cafes. My teacup is on the table. I am lifting it, putting it back, lifting it, putting it back.

I am on the edge right now. Grief comes creeping at the slightest opportunity. Tea spills into the saucer and tears want to spill too, but they don’t. John wants to be right about what she was wearing. I didn’t notice. Feelings of sadness threaten to overwhelm me and I don’t feel safe to let them. Still they come, and I square up to them. “OK then,” I say, “Show me your face,” but they slink away, grey lizards on their bellies under the table. No one notices.

I need to know who she was. Her path crossed mine on this day. Her journey through her life brought her to this place, at this time, as I was travelling home via Holloway Road and Tel Aviv. My path continues in ordinary reality. I am drinking tea. On Holloway Road, people are buying newspapers, sleeping late, going out for brunch. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. On this day, as every day, that’s what people do. They sit in cafes. They cross the road from the safety of one pavement to another. Cars on the road, people on the pavement. They stand on the platform and wait for the train to stop. They sit, whole and safe in it’s carriages. They are not supposed to be under it, crumpled and broken.

I’m at work. I am talking to children. I am watching T.V. I am talking to people who do not know what happened in Tel Aviv. And slightly to the left of my field of vision, the shape of a young woman arcs through the Tel Aviv sky. She hangs suspended in the airstream, She floats, and her coat is a sail above the sea. She floats. She lands on the track and the train goes over her. I see her face and the train goes over her. She lifts her head, I see her face and the train goes over her. I see her face.

After a few weeks, the movie becomes stills. After a few months, the still images come only when bidden.

I am a witness. This drama in this other place is called “An Inquest”. There is the driver. There is the policeman. The family members have gone. I know. I passed two women on the way. They were crying. They were going somewhere else and I wondered who they were. And I knew.

Here we are. We who were drawn, uninvited, into her life. We are the storytellers. We make the story piece by piece. The policeman speaks his truth, the whole truth. The doctor continues the story where we left the scene. He tells us what she was like when she left the station. His voice is a flat monotonous chant, like a Catholic priest who has been doing the Mass for twenty years too long. He can describe her clothes, he can describe her wounds, but he does not know who she was.

I am a witness. I am asked to tell my story. Freeze-frame details are taken from me. No one wants to see the Surfinias and only tourists and travellers go to Tel Aviv.

Now it’s the driver’s turn. He stands in the place of truth. His truth is tears.

He cannot speak his story.

The movie is still running for him.

I still don’t know who she was. I know her name. I know her address. I know what she was wearing and what she said in the letter to her mother, the letter which the policeman found when he took the keys and went to the place where she used to live. I know that she slept in the kitchen and she wrote in an A4 pad, letters to God and the Angels and her mother. I would like to have known who she was, this woman who entered my life briefly. And left. Leaving me to carry her from the station. .I couldn’t leave her there, under the train, crumpled and broken. Now that the story is told in this other place, I can let her go, as she wanted to go.

I hope she has found her way home.

And now I’m a traveller again. In the ordinary reality of this other day, I step out of the place where the stories are gathered. I walk out into unseasonal sunshine. When I look back I see the Surfinias, but it’s March and there are no Surfinias.

I must order some.

8 Responses to “Surfinias Are Everywhere”

  1. Isabelle Says:

    Brilliant Anna! Did you ever to consider writing a book??

  2. annaesse Says:

    Thank you, Isabelle for that very kind message.

    Anna

  3. therealrhodes03 Says:

    Hello my darling Anna( I remembered the name from the pm you sent me on the MF), long time no see. How’s the red pen? Still using it to correct everyone and everything?
    Bitchen Hitchen’s groupie is how I have heard you described, but I am shocked, then again no, I am not. You two bitters would be great together.

  4. annaesse Says:

    I am approving this comment so that anyone else reading here can see just what a nasty piece of work you are rhodes. To add such a snidy, sniping comment to a personal story about witnessing a tragic suicide must rank with the expression of a very low life-form, which is what I deem you to be, having read this.

  5. Massacre Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Massacre.

  6. Al Says:

    Hi Anna,

    Sorry to hear about this sad event. Human life is so sacred. All my best.

  7. annaesse Says:

    Thank you, Al. I agree totally. Human life is sacred. It is a gift. When I witnessed this tragic event, my immediate feeling was to wonder what could have driven a young woman to take her own life in such a dreadful way. I spoke to lots of people who were very sympathetic and I was actually quite traumatised by the experience.

    It was my daughter who was brave enough to put a different slant on this. She said it was really quite a selfish act. The young woman, in playing out her last moments in such a public place in the way she did, affected the lives of other people. The train driver had a breakdown. He couldn’t drive his car for months because whenever it looked like someone was about to step off the kerb, he slammed his brakes on. Also, he went back to work for one day and had to leave. He never went back. He couldn’t drive trains any more.

    I would not wish the experience of witnessing this kind of event on anyone, but I do still feel very sad for that young woman who wrote letters to God and didn’t walk back out of that train station.

  8. Toggle Zanklink Says:

    Many times I have dreams of the crimson rivers slowly swirling clockwise in this hemisphere. Feed by the drips off the platinum razors edge. Cold bonny fingers grasp my heart. I drift with a sorrowful smile deep into the black. Goodbye my pain. Let me go sorrow. I no longer belong to you. Now I am free. No sadness resides here. Good bye. Goodbye to love.

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