“Okay, so what you need to do is get off at the, hold on a sec.” I look at the tube map in my hands. “Yep, get off at the next stop, that’s Tottenham Court Road, and transfer to the Northern Line. That’s this black one here.” I point to the station on the map.
“So then, erm, we get off at Embankment?”
“Yep, spot on. Three stops to Embankment and the London Eye should be just across the river.” I hand the tube map back to the man.
“Well thanks for your help,” he says, folding the map back into his pocket. “It’s our first time in London, you see.”
“No worries, I used to live in London before I met my husband.”
It came out before I could stop myself and now a whole host of bad emotions washes over me, like waves crashing onto a rocky shore. I try and push them to the back of my mind.
“You’ll get used to it in no time,” I say, offering a smile, to cover up my momentary wobble. “Oh and by the way, there can be quite long queues; it might be best to get Lunch first.”
“Good idea,” he agrees, glancing at his wife with an expression that says ‘I told you so.’ “Thanks again.”
The man smiles and heads back to his family so I turn around to speak to Jamie.
“Hey, guess what Jamie?”
I look around, up and down the carriage.
He’s not there. I lean round the pole in the middle of the carriage, my eyes hunting for Jamie. My stomach lurches suddenly and the air begins to feel hot and stuffy. He was right beside me just a moment ago and now…
“Come on Jamie, this isn’t funny,” I whisper under my breath.
I head along the train to see if he might have gone to sit down whilst I was helping the family but all the seats are taken and not by Jamie. I twist my head from side to side but he’s nowhere to be seen.
I head back to where I last saw him, trying to control the panic that is slowly taking over my body. My hands are shaking and my legs wobble making it difficult to stand upright. I’m like a balloon one more breath from popping.
A high-pitched beeping rings out across the train and I start to wonder if he maybe got of the train. I turn towards the doors just as they slide shut. My palm slams into the window and I’m left standing on the train, just a pane of glass separating my hand from my son’s.
I see his face, his eyes filled with a terror that sends my body cold even in the stifling heat of the carriage.
For a moment he stands still, his deep brown eyes locked with mine whilst his face is drained of all its colour until it is pale and ghost like.
He erupts into life, thrashing at the doors with his fists, slamming the button at the side. He throws his knee into the door, kicking it, pounding it, his arms a blur of movement, his face pink and creased: a perfect image of desperation.
But all I can do is watch, paralysed like a tree stood still and helpless against the unrelenting force of nature with no choice but to stand and bear the brunt of the worst the world can throw at it.
With one last desperate attempt he launches his knee at the door.
But nothing happens.
His eyes lock with mine and as the train starts to roll away he runs alongside, his little legs moving faster and faster in a desperate bid to keep up. My heart aches as he reaches his arm towards me, yet I’m getting further and further away as the train brutally tears us apart.
Stepping closer to the door, I press my hands against the smudged glass, stealing one last glance at Jamie before the windows go dark and empty. He kneels on the platform, defeated; unable to run any further and at the last moment, I think I see a tear begin its slow descent down his face.
But then it’s gone.
His name floats off my tongue but is swept away by the deafening noise of the train, like a feather caught in a thunderous gust of wind, helpless and lost. Looking around the carriage, no one seems to have noticed what just happened. Either that, or they’ve simply chosen to ignore it. I guess you can’t blame them- it’s none of their business after all.
But then I see Jamie, stood alone on the platform, in his long navy coat which is too big for him because I didn’t want him to grow out of it. I see his battered old trainers that he refused to let me replace. And I see the lonely tear roll down his face, falling onto the platform by his feet.
A sudden anger builds up inside me, a deep rage aimed at all the people that have just stood there and watched. I see them now, staring at me like I’m some sort of zoo animal. And they don’t just stare, no, that’s not enough. They whisper to each other. Whispering about me. They must be. I look at the family I helped; even they act oblivious to my situation. I hate them. I hate them all…
I stare at my reflection in the dark glass, my face glowing a prickly red, my long blonde hair a tangled mess across my face. Taking some deep breaths, I realise how stupid I have been- it’s no one’s fault but my own. I give apologetic looks towards the other passengers, as if they had heard the bitter thoughts bubbling inside my head. Of course it’s not their fault, they’re just minding their own business, reading or messing round on their phones.
I tear the phone out of my pocket and scroll down to Jamie’s number so fast I end up going past it and having to scroll back up the screen. Eventually, I find his details and hit call, pressing the phone against my ear.
“Welcome to Orange answerphone-“
I curse under my breath and stare at the screen for an answer- no signal.
Once again, I find myself appalled at my own stupidity- of course there’s no signal; I must be hundreds of feet underground.
I sigh and remember what I’d said to Jamie at the start of the holiday during the train journey down to London. I’d placed a cheap, pay and go phone down on the table in front of him. His face lit up in excitement. He’d been begging for a phone recently– I remember him complaining that he was the only ten year old in England without one.
I showed him how to find my number and told him how to ring me if he needed to but he proudly explained that he already knew. Apparently his friend Stanley had shown him how to use his own phone at school.
“Now if we ever get split up, just call this number and I’ll come and get you okay?”
As I spoke to him, his forehead creased with worry. He glanced down at the phone in his hands.
“But that won’t happen though, will it?”
“Of course it won’t. You’ll be with me all the time: when we go on the London Eye, when we go to the theatre, you’ll always be with me. It’s just in case.”
“We’re going on the London Eye?” He asked excitedly, the frown gone from his face.
“Of course we are silly!” I ruffled his hair. “You don’t go to London without going on the London Eye!”
“And you promise you won’t lose me?” He asked, looking down at the phone again.
I can almost taste the vomit in my mouth as I recall what I said next.
“The next station is Tottenham Court Road. Change here for the Northern Line.”
I promised him.
I promised I wouldn’t lose him and I broke that promise. As the train starts to slow for the station, I wonder what Jamie must be thinking right now, lost and alone in one of the busiest cities in the world. I wish I’d told him just to stay where he was- if I’d just motioned to him through the window he would have understood. Instead I stood there frozen, and Jamie could be anywhere.
“Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”
The doors of the train slide open.
I broke my promise to Jamie but now I make a new one to myself: I’m going to find him.
I have to find him.
As soon as there’s a gap big enough, I slip through the open doors and onto the platform. Weaving in and out of the crowds of people I make my way to the opposite side of the station where there’s already a train in the platform, ready to take me back to where this nightmare began.
The middle carriages are all rammed full of passengers, people clinging on to handrails with their elbows half inside and half outside the train.
I charge down the platform to my left, my eyes darting from carriage to carriage in a desperate attempt to find one that’s not as busy. But I’m too late as that piercing beeping noise squeals from the train. I have no choice but to squeeze onto the next carriage, slipping onto the train just in time as my leg narrowly avoids being trapped in the doors. I apologize to a woman that I nearly knocked over and grab a handrail just as the train screeches out of the station.
The heat is almost unbearable and the unrelenting waves of nausea continue to splash around my insides. We’re crammed into the carriage like battery hens and although I’m not claustrophobic, the closeness and the stifling heat combine to make me feel all the more anxious.
Part of me wishes that we’d never come here in the first place. I’d thought it would be a good chance for us to put everything behind us and move on. How wrong could I have been?
I picture Jamie now when we were on the London Eye together yesterday. For me, it was a nightmare. Every glance down at the ground so far below me sent a terrible shiver down my spine, as if someone had thrown an ice-cold bucket of water over my head. But Jamie was so happy. I could tell from the wonder on his face and the excitement in his voice as he pointed out the many landmarks that dotted the London skyline.
Then he saw Wembley Football Stadium, stood alone, far away in the distance.
That was the one he was most excited about. I remember sitting on the bench in the middle of the capsule as he wandered over to me. He took my hand in his, and walked me over to the window. I tried to mask the fear on my face, but he must have sensed it through the trembling of my hand.
“Don’t worry,” he’d told me smiling, “It’s perfectly safe.”
He pointed at the Football Stadium, it’s iconic white arch standing out amongst the horizon.
“I was meant to go there, wasn’t I? I was meant to go with Dad.”
And in that moment I forgot about the height and all the silly little worries that hassle everyone from day to day. In their place, the biggest problem had come to the forefront of my mind, bringing with it all the guilt and sadness that gnaws away at me like some rabid animal pent up inside of me. It’s always there, nestled away at the back of my head and every now and then it comes out to haunt me. Jamie had meant to go to Wembley with his Dad, with Paul, to see their local team in the cup final. But they never got the chance.
I tried to focus on what was happening- I didn’t want him to know what I’d been thinking about. I didn’t want him to be upset too. But once again my body betrayed me, as a single tear rolled down my face and dropped onto the floor.
I started to say something, to try and explain, but he stopped me and stretched up on his tiptoes so his mouth was next to my ear and whispered four words: “It wasn’t your fault.”
“The next station is Oxford Circus. Change here for the Victoria line and the Bakerloo line.”
I push the thought away and concentrate on the situation. The windows of the train fill with the dim, artificial light of the station and I scan the platform for Jamie.
What little hope I had begins to fade away as I can’t see him anywhere, but then I remember it makes sense- if he’d stayed where he was he’d be on the eastbound platform, and crucially, that wasn’t this one.
Hope renewed, I set off through the open doors and step onto the platform. I move towards the exit but instead of going up the escalators and out of the station I carry on straight, heading for the opposite platform where to my dismay another train has just arrived.
What if Jamie gets on?
I quicken the pace, almost knocking over a tall man wearing a ridiculously large set of luminous yellow headphones. But I don’t have time to stop and stay sorry- I have to find Jamie.
I charge onto the platform and stop. Come on Jamie, where are you? Businessmen, tube workers and countless tourists wander on by, but there’s still no sign of him.
Soon, the platform starts to clear of people as they make their way to the exit or onto the train, but Jamie is still nowhere to be seen. My heart pounds at my chest like a caged animal trying to break free. I edge along the platform, glancing around now and then, too scared to look in case he’s not there. I think about getting on the train but the doors close before I can- I doubt he would have got on anyway, he knows I’d come back for him. At least I hope he does.
With a deep grumble, almost as if it can’t be bothered anymore, the train slowly heads out of the station and into the darkness, leaving me alone on the platform just like I left Jamie not fifteen minutes ago. I search around one last time with the platform almost empty now, but it’s half-hearted. I know he’s not here.
“I’m sorry,” I say to no one, chin resting on my chest.
“I’m so sorry.”
Glancing up into the black nothingness of the tunnel, I feel sick with guilt and worry and loss.
I have to find Jamie- when his Father died he was the only thing that kept me going. I lived for his smile, his brilliant, brilliant smile and the twinkle in his eyes that comes with it. The thought of losing him too…
No, that can’t happen. It won’t happen. I will find Jamie- I have to.
After all, it was me who killed his Father.