Going Underground (Paul Ingerson)

I’d been visiting my Dad who lives near Greenwich. I’d normally get the mainline train back into central London, but I thought I’d get the Underground from North Greenwich instead, just for a change.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even notice the woman in front of me as I entered the station and went through the ticket barriers. It was only when she stepped onto the escalator down to the platforms that something looked odd. Her legs seemed to start moving with the escalator but her upper half didn’t seem to move until a split second later.

I must have imagined it, right? But just to be sure, I kept my eye on her. Not that I could see much standing behind and above her. The lavender-pink jacket she wore was just about long enough to hide her midriff from my view, so I couldn’t see if there was anything unusual about it.

But exactly the same thing happened when she stepped off at the bottom. Her legs and her top half were just slightly out of sync for a moment. I wanted to see more, and I hoped she was going towards central London like me.

Yes, my luck was in. She was turning towards the Westbound platforms. I followed the mystery woman to the platform, and I got my first good look at her while waiting for the train. She was in her fifties, more than old enough to be my mother, but she had the haircut, fashionable clothes and anorexic figure you’d
associate with someone under half her age. Maybe she thought she looked sexy but it was weird.

The weirdest thing of all was the stretch of midriff showing at the front. It wasn’t showing. There was nothing but thin air between her trousers and her pale magenta top. I could see right through to the back, yet those clothes were still curved as if something was beneath them.

Her face and hands were visible, so were the legs sticking out of the bottom of her tight 3/4-length trousers. But she just didn’t have a middle.

I tried not to stare at her, but I kept having to sneak glances at her, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. Then I was distracted by voices making their way from the other end of the platform. Two uniformed policemen were making their way slowly towards us, looking at everyone. Looking for someone.

If this was America, no doubt there’d be dozens of elite MIB agents in plain clothes. Luckily our conspiracies are so useless they just send a couple of constables from the British Transport Police! The woman saw them too and moved further along the platform, crossing her arms to hide her missing midriff.

The train arrived before the policemen reached us. We got on, leaving them behind. I made sure I was sitting where I could see her. But we didn’t travel very far. At the next station, Canary Wharf, there was an announcement that everyone had to get off the train because of a signal failure.

This was odd. There had been signalling problems when this stretch of the Jubilee line had opened last year, but I thought they’d all been fixed by now. Well, we all got off the train and waited for another announcement telling us that the problem had been fixed. Instead the train just continued on its way despite the failed signal!

You know I’m not very imaginative, but by now my imagination was working overtime. Was this all part of a police trap for the mystery woman? I was determined to see what happened next.

All the passengers started trickling up to ground level, to join the Docklands Light Rail system into central London. She was with them, and once again the movement of the escalator threw her top and bottom halves briefly out of sync. It was so crowded that nobody else even noticed this.

She must have seen me starind at her, but her eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, so I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t want her to think I was anything to do with those policemen. I guess I knew the station better than she did, so I took a short cut and I was waiting in the Light Rail platform before her. (If you’re going to follow someone, it’s less suspicious if you can stay in front of them!)

Those tiny Light Rail trains are always crowded, and with all the passengers of a whole Underground train in it as well, this one was a nightmare. I lost sight of her in the crowd, and just had to hope I’d find her again at the end of the line.

Meanwhile, the journey was very slow. The train’s tiny little engines obviously couldn’t cope with the weight of all these extra passengers. And all those bodies packed into a cramped space, together with the warm weather we were having last weekend, meant conditions were terrible.

I tried to distract myself by trying to figure out who this mystery woman was. If she was hiding from the authorities, maybe the clothes for someone 30 years younger than her were like a disguise? But why wouldn’t she choose a disguise that would conceal her missing belly button? It just didn’t make sense. I made up my mind, I would ask her if I could see her out of this crowd.

It was a real relief when the train finally arrived at Bank station, the end of the line. All the passengers flooded out in an uncontrollable crowd, pushing each other forward. I tried to glance behind me, and thought I saw my woman also being carried along in the rush towards the escalators.

I waited for her on the Central line platform, but I didn’t see her. I let one train go, preferring to remain and search for her, instead of continuing my journey. I headed back up the corridor, searching for her.

I wasn’t expecting what I found. Her legs, but without her top half stepping into one of the lifts that lead to the station’s Lombard Street exit. Of course, with the escalator throwing her out of sync and the pushing of the crowd stopping her getting together again, she must have gone two separate ways.

I ran towards the lift, but too late. The doors had closed. If I waited for the next one, it would take too long. I wouldn’t catch her legs again. I turned back along the corridor, hoping to find her top half.

I didn’t. And so I’ve got no idea who she was, how she got like that, or why the authorities wanted to trap her. But if anyone in London is reading this and you see her, please let me know. Thanks.

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