Risk Appetite .
by SOFIA GENCO-BILLINGTON
OCT 17th, 2023
Bob Mazzer, Underground, 2014.
It would not be farfetched to say that it is generally considered rude to stare. In my opinion the problem lies with people’s inability to accept how fun it is. Personally, my enjoyment comes from watching the unwatched, the ones who think they get away with it, the CCTV phantoms.
Plainly, I like to watch businessmen on trains.
When you think about it, a large percentage of us are constantly watched by them, so I like to watch them back. Nothing brightens my morning more than observing them skim and hop across the platforms like magpies in a field, slipping through the doors at the last moment. Arguably what I do is rude, even dangerous, but it’s like prodding a bruise. I have to watch them. I like to press harder. The whole thing is simply too perfect, especially when you’re in such exceptional circumstances, so wonderfully deep under the ground.
You may think it’s distasteful of me to admit that I like how sad they look, worming their way deep below to their up high jobs. They often look saddest alone, and are much happier when in a group, misery breeds brotherhood I suppose. When they rest their temples against the windows, closing their eyes in placid, abstract pain, swaying like reeds in the marsh as the train flicks its tail this way and that, I feel as though I’m watching an intricate piece of theatre. I can’t help but watch the tragedian, twizzling his wedding rings, wincing at every loud noise, perpetually headached, brooding, thinking of the easiest way to dispose of the bands deep into the tracks.
I like seeing the old ones too, stout little bodies in shoes with no laces, the lone rangers who lost their passion for money years ago. I like them with neat little glasses that look fragile and expensive, tortoiseshell or wire-rimmed is best, something with an eccentric flavour. Anything navy or black is dull, too self-aware. No, they have to be dainty and the more susceptible to toddler destruction, the better.
I particularly like the imposters. The ones with their dusty sixth form school shoes and prom blazers hidden under black raincoats used for walking the family dog. I like their unmatched bags, the weekend hiking rucksacks, and the running satchels. I award more points for a battered old satchel, less for a leather briefcase— the former is classy, the latter too bomb-like and makes for an edgy tube journey. I can’t enjoy myself when they make me feel in danger; they ruin my fun.
Some of them notice me looking, their blue pupils (because they always are) flitting about, examining the station, checking that their leather wallet is still pushed against their thigh and bulging from their pocket, like a soft, comforting hand.
You can tell that some are walking the plank to a corporate grave. Monday’s man is filled with pride, but by Wednesday the disciplinaries have been called and nobody is peppy anymore. Friday’s end-of-days commuters are heavy with the phrase ‘we will discuss this on Monday’, so they drag their headphoned heads across the floor, LED kitchen island closely insight. Halcyon Pinot Noir. It’s judgemental. That’s the game. And of course, then you reach the tunnels.
Sometimes, when the train stops in the dark, waiting there with its bug-eyed lights for the platform to become free, you may notice one of two things. If it’s a dull day, perhaps a Thursday (not quite Friday, pubs are too quiet, morale is buried under the quagmire) you shan’t see anything out of the ordinary. True pros sweat it out as their faces darken to a gout-red hue and their collars grow grubbier. Friday nights is when things get fun. They’re grappling then. Desperate. You can be packed in, body-against-body, hemmed in by those long arms grasping at the handles you can’t reach, a sea of heavy wristwatches and savage aftershave. Then suddenly, as soon as that platform grows busy and your stuck in the dark, they start to vibrate. The weakness is an act, they’re strong under there, even the old ones only held up in their loafers by their pinstripes. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to watch them wrench their hands between the doors, fingers white from the pressure, slowly prying them open. You see, they have places to be, very important places, and if they don’t get there, well, where will they go? If you’re luckier, you’ll get a good enough spot to see them go home. This is what I watch for. I watch to see them slide away into the mechanical soot. I watch to see their eyes glaze over and the dark fingers scrape across their swan-white shirts, yank them by the tie (because really, you should wear a tie) or simply, envelop them cosily into the walls. I watch to see their commute into darkness. It’s a surprisingly easy affair, all that packed in brick and straw and mud makes for a more than suitable system to eat up the sound of ringing phones, fed hungrily on drops of signal, calling out to who knows where. Then before you realise it, the carriage is all airy again.
They’re sleeping in there, a blissful state of industrial silence. When it’s over maybe somebody will look at you, thank god he’s gone, her eyes will say, but words would be pointless. They’ll be back soon. They’re out of office you see, unreachable. Those walls keep them safe, hold them gently, otherwise the streets would echo, and quite literally, ring.
I don’t take the trains at weekends. My game is played best when they’re awake.