I like the cold smooth metal of the doors.
The doors are everywhere; the ones ahead open only after the ones behind have shut. Twenty at a time we travel through London, through the tubes without windows.
Sometimes people try to push ahead, and when that happens the frustration is a knot in the centre of each group. The twenty cling together, repel invaders by refusing to give. As if we knew each other – not just strangers trying to get to work, get home, put together by chance. We Londoners are believers in fate. Our random configurations must have a meaning.
Often I try to stand near the doors but this can be dangerous. Clothes get caught and sirens sound. If you are responsible you can be fined. I’m on a last warning, so I try to get near the centre, but I can’t help touching those doors. The metal is a few degrees cooler than the tube. There is a faint magnetic murmur under my fingers.
This morning I have managed to resist the temptation, and get off at my stop, as usual, to walk through the long blue corridor that brings me out at the lifts. Ten at a time at the lifts. My group is split down further. Men step aside for women; an old courtesy that always takes me by surprise and gratifies me. I get a space in the first lift, waved on by an elderly suited man who raises his hat to me. He is bald underneath, and the skin is raised and angry: burned. It sets him aside as a survivor of the Event, and the others who have noticed step back in deference, but then the lift doors close and the vignette is gone.
At my desk without windows, on the floor without windows, I breathe the manufactured air and listen to the piped birdsong.
I don’t really have anything to do, but am I here. Some days pass without anything hitting my in tray; today is threatening to be one of them. But here comes the man with the trolley, and my luck is in – he stops at my desk and hands me a folder.
‘Letters,’ he says.
‘To be sorted.’
I smile at him but he has not seen. He pushes the trolley away and I see the other workers on my floor staring at me. I pick up a pen in a businesslike fashion and open the folder, not seeing the letters for a few minutes as I milk the moment. When I finally think they have grown tired and turn away, I start to pay attention to what I have been given.
Handwriting. Curved, old, real, spelling mistakes and crossings out, and the paper has been crumpled and then pressed back into flat obedience to leave a mess of lines.
The woman writes to a friend about her decision to emigrate. I don’t know the word. She writes of a hotter land, endless hours of sunshine – why would anyone want to move to that – and family that are already there. The sentences flow on to doubts about long air travel, the flight, the food, and I think if that had been my life I never would have had these doubts. Aeroplanes in the sky. Her existence was filled with aeroplanes in the sky and she never looked up at them and marvelled that the trails of smoke they left behind could be seen against a clear blue sky.
I have never seen a window until now.
This letter is a window. I hold it in my hands. I do not see the destroyed world outside, the burned London that I am not meant to cry for. I see a world of blue and green. I see beauty.