The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

A normal day out in London for a child and his Mother quickly develops into a much more defining one.

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Do you want to know what makes me sad?

 

And I don’t just mean a little bit sad, like when my dog knocked over the Lego castle I’d spent the whole day building or when I missed a penalty for my school football team. I know things like that are easy to sort out, at least, that’s what my Mum says (not mummy- I’m too old for that now) and Mum’s are never wrong, which is another thing she’s always telling me.

 

That’s why I made sure that the next penalty I took went straight into the top corner. I remember running off to celebrate with my friends in the pouring rain, sliding through the muddy turf on my belly. I looked to the touchline. Saw my Dad cheering. Laughing. Smiling.

 

But something’s aren’t that easy to sort out.

 

I try to push the thought away and focus on keeping my balance, clinging to the tall red pole of the underground carriage as it jolts me from side to side. But then I see another boy who’s sat with his Dad and they’re playing a game together and they’re laughing and…

 

And I shut my eyes and look away. 

 

Before this weekend I’d never been to London before, but from the moment I stepped out of Euston Station, hand in hand with my Mum, I knew I was going to love it. You see, in the small town where I live, there isn’t anything like there is here in London. No tube stations (just a normal train station), no skyscrapers, no busy streets, no cinemas, no football pitches (though there’s plenty of fields), there’s just a post office, a couple of shops and a lot, and I mean a lot, of old people. Don’t get me wrong, old people are cool, but it means that there’s hardly anything to do for other kids like me.

 

It would be way cooler to live in London. It’s just so different to where I live. As different as… Wait, what’s that saying that people always tell me when describing opposites, something to do with chalk?  As different as chalk and chips? I don’t know but anyway, they’re like complete opposites.

 

And you can’t forget the tube.

 

Hundreds of trains, tunnels and tracks and it all runs underground, like a whole other city right beneath London. I think about my best friend, Stanley, who’d love it because he’s obsessed by trains- always talking to me about them at school. Half the time I don’t know what he’s going on about but I go along with it and nod and try to seem interested because that’s what friends should do.

 

The train begins to slow down, so I brace myself for the harsh braking as we pull into the station. A woman’s voice crackles through the speakers above me.

 

“The next station is Bond Street. Change here for the jubilee line.”

 

I recognise the name of the station and smile; it’s one of the green spaces in Monopoly.  When I play the game, I always try to get those spaces because green is my favourite colour. (Also, if you really want to win I think the orange spaces are good because it’s cheap to buy houses on them, yet the rent is quite high.) I’m about to tell Mum but it’s as if she’s read my mind.

 

“You know Bond Street is one of the streets in Monopoly, Jamie?” She says, ruffling my short brown hair. “What colour is it again? It’s yellow right?”

 

She smiles at me and I think about telling her that Bond Street is actually green but in the end I lie.

 

I lie because I always used to play games with Dad- Mum didn’t really find them interesting but since he…

 

But now Mum always tries to play games with me even though she doesn’t like them, just like I try to be interested in trains when Stanley talks to me about them because I don’t want him to get upset.

 

So in the end I just nod my head and say: “I think so,” so then Mum won’t be sad.

 

I’m thrown backwards, suddenly, as the train stops at the busy station with an awful screeching of breaks that hurts my ears. Mum keeps me from falling over and I wish that there was somewhere for me to sit.

 

“Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”

 

The doors of the carriage slide open and I watch as people begin to leave or board the train. But just as I begin to make some room for myself more people start to get on and soon I find myself squeezed between Mum, the pole in the middle of the carriage and a large man who looks like he’s about to burst out of the grey suit which is far too small for him.

 

“Please mind the doors.”

 

A beeping noise sounds from the train and I can hear the doors shut behind the crowds of people crammed into the carriage. I gasp as the man in the suit stands on my toes by accident. He holds up his hand as if to say sorry.  

 

“When can we get off, Mum?” I ask, desperate to leave this cramped train.

“Not long now,” she says, squeezing my hand, “two more stops I think.”

 

Biting my nails, I shift from side to side in what little space I have. My palms are slippery with sweat so I wipe them down the front of my coat. Standing on the tips of my toes, I try to get a glimpse out of the window, but all I see is people and more people. I sigh and close my eyes, trying to ignore the awful feeling that the carriage is getting smaller and smaller.

 

I’m back at home, lying in bed on a warm, summer night, the comforting orange glow of the sun’s final light creeping through the gap in the curtains, illuminating Mum’s face as she finishes my favourite story whilst pulling the covers up snug to my chin. There’s music too, soft, gentle music, the quiet chords of a guitar carrying me into a deep, dreamy sleep and just before I close my eyes, I glimpse the man playing the guitar and I feel warm, happy, safe, as I see it’s my Dad…

 

“The next station is Oxford Circus. Change here for the Victoria line and the Bakerloo line.”

 

My eyes open as I feel the train slowing to a halt at the station.

 

One more stop.

 

One more.

 

“Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”

 

The doors open and to my relief, people begin to leave the train. Less people seem to be getting on this time as well but I watch as a man and a woman step onto the train with two children and brace myself for another squeeze. The man taps my Mum on the shoulder, asking her if he’s on the right train. She lets go of my hand as she points to the map on the wall. She’s always helpful, no matter who to.  

 

I look to my left and see a lady, cheeks red and clearly flustered. She packs up her things into a bag that’s not quite big enough and scrambles out of her seat. As she hops of the train and onto the platform I notice her purse slip out of her pocket and land by the doors.

 

I think about ignoring it- leaving it for someone else to sort out. But then I glance at Mum and see her helping that other family and I know that I should be helpful too.

 

I wander over to the purse and pick it up, noticing how close it was to falling onto the track. Leaning out of the doors, I try to spot the woman whose purse I now gripped in my hand. Opposite me, a poster for the musical ‘We Will Rock You’ (it’s really good, by the way, I saw it the night before and you should definitely go and see it) follows the curve of the wall but looking down the platform to my left I can see the woman, hurrying towards an exit, already a couple of carriages further down. I shout but she doesn’t hear me, so I hop off the train and onto the platform. 

 

For a second, I’m glad to be able to stretch my legs as I hurry after the lady, her purse in my hand. I call out to her but she keeps on walking, unable to here me over the hustle and bustle of the London Underground.

 

“Hey!” I shout, louder this time, waving to her as she finally turns around.  “I think you dropped this,” I say holding out the purse. She looks at me for a second, confused, then takes it and scuttles off, thanking me as she turns away. As she hurries off towards the exit, I notice how good it feels to do something helpful, something Mum would be proud of.

 

Wait.

 

Mum.

 

A dreadful beeping noise rings out across the platform.

 

The train.

 

In an instant I forget everything that has just happened. I have to get back to the carriage, to Mum. I turn on my heels and run. No, I sprint. I sprint as fast as my little legs will take me. I look through the windows on my right. But I’m too small to see through them properly.  How will I know what carriage she’s on?

 

The poster; it was right opposite the doors.

 

I look to my left now, still running, faster still. Where is it? Where is…

 

There.

 

I see the poster, opposite the next carriage along.

 

And I’m still running.

 

Around one person. Past another. Left, right, through the crowd. And I see the doors begin to slide shut. And I’m three steps away.  Two steps away. One.

 

I reach for the train, for Mum…

 

But my palm slams into the hard surface of the door.

 

For a second I just stand there, panting, unable to decide whether to cry or shout or scream.

 

In the end, I go for a mixture of all three. I throw my fists into the doors, I mash the button at the side, I scream and I shout but no one can hear me over the awful roar of the engines.  I launch my knee at the train and I wince at the pain but nothing happens.

 

Nothing happens.

 

Then I see Mum. Our eyes meet and I watch her lips slowly carve out my name as the train starts to slither away with an awful rumbling of engines that screams at my ears. I run along side her until I can go no further and fall to my knees at the very moment she vanishes into the dark at the end of the tunnel.

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