In an
overground station
of the
London underground


Translated by Andrew Fentem

Putney Bridge

During a recent stay in London, I happened to find myself - like you do - examining a map of the city's underground network. Fascinated by this multitude of different coloured lines responsible for goodness knows how much tension and friction goodness knows how many short-circuits every day, it felt like, without having taken a single step, I had already embarked on a trip of sorts. Having devoured this feast for the eyes, I then entered the jaws of this same underground network myself like some tasty morsel it had gobbled up.

Planning to go for a walk alongside the Thames and escape the oppressive crowds at the centre of this megacity, I got off at Putney Bridge station, an 'overground' underground station, the sort that, when we emerge from the darkness, remind us of daylight's true beauty in one magical instant.

Leaving the tube, I headed towards an exit but soon noticed the staircase was sealed off by a metal gate. There was another staircase on the same platform so I rushed towards this but a minute or two later realised that, just like the first one, it was closed too. The only other person on the platform other than myself at that time was a woman, who approached me but I told her the other staircase was blocked off too.

This can't be permanent, I thought. Any moment now, someone would come long and open the gate and anyway, another train would soon arrive spilling out passengers onto the platform, one of whom would surely be in possession of a key for the gate. I was sure the situation could have no other outcome.

I was right to be optimistic. At that same moment I heard the initial shudders of a tube train emanating from the other side of the platform and, as I saw it approach, felt relief was close. But as it reached the platform, such was its speed that the noise and wind forced me to move back from its edge rapidly. I soon understood why the train was travelling so fast - it had no intention of stopping. I still hoped somebody might show up on the other platform across the tracks but there wasn't a soul.

Soon afterwards, another tube did arrive that was heading towards the same terminus - Wimbledon - as the one I had taken earlier. To my great satisfaction, a dozen passengers left the train and I informed a few of them that the two exits to the station were closed. A man dressed in a tracksuit tried opening one of the gates using brute force but alas to no avail. Some passengers could barely conceal their frustration, while others obviously thought the best thing to do in such situations was to laugh. "I've been using this station every day for the past thirty-seven years," said a man with a slightly greying chin beard, "and I've never experienced anything like this before." Another man, aged about forty and wearing a tie, added that he had a job interview in fifteen minutes and, placing his black glasses down over the eyes of his balding head again, explained he was going to be late at this rate. The reaction of most of the travellers was to get out their mobile phones though. At that moment a muffled voice coming from a loudspeaker suddenly apologised for the two exits on the platform being blocked and added that all was being done to open the gates as quickly as possible. No details of how long the specific delay were given however. Some minutes later, dozens more passengers had gathered on the platform and the gates were still closed. There were no signs of life on the other platform either, which I had been scrutinizing all the time.

In the end I decided to get on the next tube that arrived and get off at the next station, East Putney, as it had no great effect on my own excursion. How foolish of me not to have thought of this idea earlier, I said to myself.

Since this incident occurred, I have returned to Bucharest, my current home. However I still sometimes wonder why the two gates were closed. Have they have been reopened since? Has the crowd of people, which was getting larger and larger when I left, continued to increase? Have some people maybe suffocated due to the lack of space or died of hunger or thirst waiting in desperation for the gates to be opened? Or maybe somebody has been injured or even killed while trying to cross the tracks.