“Mind the gap.”
Screeches and grumbles of London Underground trains still track through my memory. There’s a pitch change at deceleration and again at departure. Tunnel-bound vapours sting nostrils. A platform arcs to infinity at midnight and feels like a thimble in the rush.
The Tube hauls more than 1 billion people annually across a 402 km network, straddling subterranean and elevated London. It’s a feat of logistics and there’s energy in that bustle. Like electrified tracks, my anticipation crackles in a foreign city.
Such momentum lasts until summer on the Tube presents Petri-dish armpits arresting the will to live. Winter feigns respite, providing warm pockets underground — then the lifts break. It’s initially novel to squirrel below street level via stairs. However, there’s no eagerness in my ascent by foot.
London is a behemoth, cloaking countless opportunities for a traveller to be wrested from the familiar. Riding the Underground is a sociological instructor in nuance. It’s also a short course in keeping alive to all travel slops on your shoes, sticks up your nose and shoves in your face.
The busiest Underground station is Waterloo: nearly 50 000 people enter during the three-hour morning peak. It’s easy to be swept into the morass. Though I’m now resident half a world away, it’s hard to remember not knowing what that felt like.
I’m writing this as I prepare to be swept into the life of cities which have carved histories and projected futures far removed from those of London: Dubai and Istanbul. A tremor of anticipation flicks across my stomach and I’m ready for the too-huge world.