Victoria Walsh sends us a piece of flash fiction with a powerful message as her protagonist James is trapped in an all too recognizable world. Victoria hopes to continue writing for this new creative writing section of The Tribe throughout the year so look out for more of her work.
James dragged his gaze across the passengers on the carriage. They varied in age, size, shape, gender, style – but each expression was a photocopy of the next. Lifeless eyes were cast downwards, looking at the floor but not seeing it. The facial expressions were more than blank. They seemed to hang and with each passing moment drooped further as if they might soon melt away altogether. Shoulders were hunched forward in defeat. Limp bodies swayed back and forth as the train hurtled through underground passages.
At the first stop a cluster of people evacuated the carriage and James claimed a seat next to a woman in a navy blazer and skirt – a young professional not unlike himself. In one hand she grasped a mobile phone and the bright screen blared at her listless face as she scrolled through her messages. She gazed at the phone screen in the same way others observed the floor – with a complete absence of consciousness.
At the second stop a cool voice announced the location. Two teenagers embarked, their hands laden with shopping bags. Their lively chatter withered the moment the doors closed behind them and they too resumed the unconscious stare. Before they disembarked at stop number three, James looked up to find one of them staring directly at him: detached, mechanical and altogether ignorant of his presence.
At the fourth stop nearly all of the remaining passengers left, shuffling towards the doors. Before the train rocked into motion once more, James noticed some of the lights on the platform flickering in meek exhaustion. After the fifth stop, he and the young woman were the only ones left. The silence hanging between them was penetrated by a clatter as her phone slid from her limp hand to the floor. James stooped over to pick it up and rearranged his weary features into a smile as he returned it to its owner. She merely delivered the expected thanks in an automatic monotone before the train ground to a halt at stop number six – her cue to rise and depart.
James sat alone in the carriage until the seventh stop: his destination. On this final leg of the trip the train seemed to creak and whistle with a rush of strained exuberance as if aware that he was homeward bound. At last it stopped and the doors drew back to release him. James stepped onto the platform and found a long sigh escaping him. Behind him, the doors closed again and he felt a puff of air against his back. The train screeched against the tracks and it rattled onwards, ever determined in spite of the lull and exhaustion – the dusk of the dying day.