Marie didn’t wake Jimmy until they were coming into Kings Cross because she wasn’t paying attention and the train didn’t actually stop at Milton Keynes. She leaned over the table and shook his shoulder gently, unable to reach far enough to do any better. Jimmy’s eyes flicked open like a striking snake, and his hand knocked hers away from his shoulder. He sat bolt upright, his gaze fixed on her and his eyes feeling like they were burning straight through her. Then he relaxed, and sank back.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said. “We’re on the train, right?”
Marie nodded, too startled still to speak.
“Ok cool, whereabouts are we?” He looked out of the window just as the train went into a dark tunnel. He waited, but the tunnel seemed to go on forever.
“Kings Cross,” he said. “I meant to ask you to wake me earlier. Never mind. You got all your stuff?”
Marie had put her puzzle book, the first puzzle still not completely solved, back in her handbag before waking Jimmy up, and she nodded again, and then lifted her handbag onto the table to show him. He half-smiled. “Right, good,” he said. “When we get off we’ve got to go through the barriers, so get your ticket ready, but hang on to it. It’s good for the underground as well, as we’re going on the Northern Line. We’ve got four stops, then we’re off at Kentish Town. Keep up with me, there’s a good girl; there’s going to be a lot of people going for our tube and I’d rather get there before them all.”
“Right,” said Marie, pleased to have found her voice again. “Follow you and be quick.”
Jimmy smiled. “Let’s get up,” he said. “We’ve been sat down for hours, standing will get the blood circulating again.”
They waited in the lobby of the carriage until it pulled into the station, and then Jimmy leaned on the Door Open button as though it made a difference until the door opened. He darted off the train as fast as a salmon leaping upstream, and Marie hesitated, startled before following him. She had to run straight away to catch up with him, only managing to do so because the barriers slowed him down. Then he led the way across a concourse and down a flight of stairs into a large tunnel, and then unerringly led her this way and that through the maze of corridors filled with people all staring ahead of themselves and hurrying just as fast. When they emerged onto the north-bound Northern line platform she was gasping for breath, and the number of people already on the platform startled her. She was sure that there were more people along this narrow platform than had got on her train down from Leeds, and they all looked impatient, and sometimes angry. Jimmy walked down the platform, dodging in and out of people, forcing her to follow or get lost. She found her eyes tearing up, but then he stopped and seemed to edge out a little space around him. She hurried up to him, and he ignored her.
An announcement came over the PA system, loud and slightly distorted, so unexpected that she couldn’t understand a word of it, as though they were speaking in a foreign language. Then a wind appeared from nowhere, and she looked around in a panic. No-one seemed to notice it, and if anything they seemed to huddle closer to the platform edge. There was a yellow line painted there, and they all seemed intent on being right up to it, but almost no-one stood across it. There was barely ten centimetres of room after it before the platform ended and the train track started, so she didn’t blame them for not wanting to go past it. Then the train arrived, sleek carriages drawing up lethally close to the platforms edge, and she squeaked now, astonished by the noise, the speed, and the proximity of it. No-one even looked at her. The doors opened with a clatter, and people poured off the train, not quite pushing aside the people on the platform, who moved reluctantly, unwilling to give up their positions relative to the doors. For a moment there was stillness as the last person leaving came from the carriage, and then the flow reversed and she found herself sucked on to the tube with the rest of the crowd. Jimmy was ahead of her somewhere, but it was only when the doors closed and she was left standing in the middle of the carriage that she saw that he’d sat down. All of the seats were taken, and the train started with a jerk that pulled her feet from under her and knocked her to the ground.
She had to get up, slowly and carefully, using the glass panels at the end of the row of seats, that separated those standing from those seated, and then she realised that there were bars above her head for her to hold on to while the train moved. Red-faced with shame and pain she clung to them, and when Jimmy stood up and got off without looking at her four stops later she followed him in silence.
“What did you think of the tube then?” asked Jimmy outside the station. A row of terraced houses stretched away across the road in both directions. “It’s an amazing piece of engineering. And there’s some things down in those tunnels that they don’t tell people about. I’ve always thought that Mr. High and Mighty knows something about what’s down there, but he’s not telling. Not me, anyway.”
“It’s a bit scary,” said Marie. She wished Jimmy would ask he she was alright, acknowledge that she’d fallen over, but she knew him too well to think that he actually would.
“You get used to it,” said Jimmy. “Right, we have a museum to visit!”