These dark days I hardly see anyone. There’s shapes and shades and shadows but nothing you could put a label to. Most of them tend to keep to the walls as if touching their way along in the darkness. My little kiosk sits in the middle of the walkway, a shining light during those lonely hours.
I have been here for as long as I can remember. Where I come from, things are passed down from Father to son, Mother to daughter. We used to share our clothes; the eldest getting them new and the next in line getting them handed down. That’s the way it worked when I was growing up and that’s how I probably got this kiosk. It’s bright and warm on cold mornings and just as accommodating during the blast of evenings.
My customers are not as many as they were before. Few people have time to talk. They mumble their requests as if still asleep. Smiles, eh? Who’d have thought that they would have become a thing of the past? So, I try to nudge them along a little. “How’s the world treating you today?” And for a moment that breaks the trance, a little.
Trance, that’s a good word. If I was asked a million dollar question, supposing it’s not sterling or euros, my answer would be ‘trance’. Everybody seems to be in one these days. They’re all wrapped up in their own concerns that they don’t see what’s actually going on around them. Nobody buys a newspaper; not that there’s anything worth reading now. In fact, nobody buys anything. It’s a wonder that I get by.
My old dad used to say that a kind word is worth a million quid. My mum used to say that Dad was right. She knew that because it was her that introduced him to the saying. Mum was probably the brains of the family. She was wise enough let my dad think that he was. That was when people talked, sometimes shouted but got back to talking.
Mum told us that during the war our Grannie came down here with all of her kids. It was the safest place because the Germans were bombing the city. She corrected herself, as since joining the Common Market we realised that all Germans were not the ones who were bombing us, just the Nazis. My family never had no time for that sort of thing, even when they were home-grown and spoke with plummy accents.
Every night, whole communities would go down into the underground and sit out the worst of it. Every morning, they would emerge like the resurrected on Judgment Day and set about trying to find their homes. That was when the world ended, for many people.
They say that the dead do not stir. Well, I am living witness to the fact that they do. Mum told me that Dad used to watch the dead traipsing into the tunnels long after they were gone. He saw families that hadn’t managed to reach the shelters or had steadfastly refused to leave their homes to the Luftwaffe. They’d be found in the morning beneath what used to be their homes. Yet, that very night, they would be walking along with the living, trying to amend the previous night’s mistake.
Even those that died in battles, a long way from home, made it back. Sometimes they were joining their still breathing families and sometimes they were on their own. I still see some of them these days, like faded patterns on wallpaper. Now, I don’t have an understanding of what goes on along the lower platforms, but I’m guessing that word is getting around; this is the place to be.
You’ll have to excuse me, but one’s coming now. This one’s not a full-fat gonner, more of your semi-skimmed.
“How’s the world treating you this morning, sir?”
I do not have to look at his face too deeply to get my answer.