Very recently I was on the tube remembering another journey on the tube. On this other journey we had stopped at Baker St station and the carriage had all but emptied when I noticed a briefcase sitting near the door. No-one was near the briefcase and I was not the only one who had noticed it. There were shy, querying glances. Being a good ex-Londoner I started to sweat a little, weighed up the options, jumped up, leaned out the carriage door and yelled down the swarming platform (and I have a voice, let me tell you) :
“…has anyone left a briefcase on the train?”
A wag walked by muttering “…it’s a bomb…” without breaking stride.
I didn’t say:”…or someone’s briefcase.”
Nor did I say: “…pillock.”
No-one stopped, no-one even turned around, so I retreated back to my seat with a meek: “Well, I tried,” to the few passengers around, none of whom even broke a smile. Let’s be honest, none of whom now even dared eye contact.
With every visit back to London I thank my stars, just a little more vehemently, that we have left.
I was thinking this scenario through and collecting adjectives to describe that moment when the train pulls away – your bag on it. The cold, leaden-sick feeling, the dummy-chucking frustration, the isolation of the “…actually… hang on… where is my bag” instant. I wondered what had happened to the bag after the nonchalant TfL guy had carried it off at the next station. (“Excuse me? – hi – someone’s left their bag.”) How someone, somewhere was pulling at their hair thinking: “It’s got to be somewhere.” How they might be listing item by disposable item, the things in it.
Losing stuff – it’s finally so infantilising.
I lost my hat once, I was thinking, my favourite, my best, most happy hat – and the joy of getting it back months later, was almost worth the loss. There is a lesson in that, I was thinking. Surely it is good to let it all go? Letting go is good. Where does letting go merge with dumb, empty loss? I was wondering.
And at that moment – I missed my hat.
In my mind I saw it on the shelf on the train I had been sitting on less than half an hour ago. In my mind I rewound the insruction I had given myself to put it in my bag NOW. And how I had ignored it.
We pulled up at Warren St. I had twenty minutes to get to Euston to meet my friend. Plenty of time to get to Euston. Not enough time to go back to Victoria, chase a hat, then get back to Euston. I stepped onto the platform, did a quick sum, stepped back on the train, trailed a foot back on the platform. Make my friend wait? Make the most of my best chance to retrieve the Hat? Miss the hat, be late for friend. Hat. Friend. Hat. Friend. Then those dee-dee-dee noises as the doors shut. I stayed on the train. I jammed my hands in my pockets and regretted the breeze on my ears. I was early for my friend. Who was late.