In the darkness, a few sighs, a few nervous laughs. I stood motionless, trying to stop myself thinking about the press of bodies around me, trying to focus instead on the thoughts I might be having if I was walking the streets of Mexico City on this humid, sunny April Saturday, instead of being stuck down here…
That was my unpleasant experience on the metro the other day. Well, no: not exactly unpleasant in itself, for it didn’t last long, and I emerged with money and mobile phone intact. But I was left contemplating how much worse the situation could have been.
Aiming to get to Coyoacan for a late afternoon showing of Dr Zhivago at the Cineteca Nacional, I waited on the platform at Insurgentes Sur. And waited some more. All the time, the platform was gradually drip-fed with people. Those of us who had been kept lingering the longest wore annoyed expressions, save for a rotund man who kept chortling at every comment made by his companions. On the opposite platform, trains came, but the length of time they paused deepened my sense that I was in for a long journey. I only had to go to Zapata, two stops on, where I would change lines, and had allowed plenty of time: on balance I reckoned I would make it.
Eventually a train came, very very slowly. As many of us as possible crammed on board. At the next station some people got off, a few got on, and the doors shut. And we went nowhere. The lights went out. It grew uncomfortably hot. The lights came on again, followed by the air conditioning. But then both went out again. And then went on again. Then off. A few more chortles were coming from the direction of the rotund man, but most other passengers were keeping silent, coping with the situation in their own private ways.
That’s when my imagination started to run wild. I was at a station, so could have signalled my dire stress, if I got to that stage, to passengers standing on the platform: but supposing I hadn’t been at a station? What if I had been trapped in a tunnel, and for some reason imminent rescue was out of the question? Supposing some malevolent bunch of people had jammed us in here intentionally, and I was enduring my own Black Hole of Calcutta?
I got out, of course. That is why I am able to write this. In fact, I wasn’t actually imprisioned for very long. I have no heroic tale of endurance to tell. But I don’t mind admitting that some disturbing thoughts continued to lurk in my mind as I sat in a Cielito Querido coffee shop (I’d given up on the cinema), chai latte and philosophy book beside me.