Every morning, at 7.29 exactly John addresses his greatest fear. As the train eases to a halt and prior to the doors sliding open John smells the acidic tang of his own sweat, feels the cold finger that runs down his spine and focuses his energies on his enfeebled knees, willing them to remain strong.
Every morning at 7.30 the doors open and a wall of faces confronts John – blank, depersonalised faces, expressing both nothing and despair in their blank-eyed stares. Small movements, a twitch here, a shuffle there and a modicum of space appears.
Every morning at 7.31 John presses himself against a phalanx of coats and bags and scarves and flesh. Panic, freshly risen, repeated every day clutches his throat and snares his nostrils. His chest hardens and breathing becomes John’s new sole focus. The sweat beads his forehead and someone – it could be anyone – groans.
Every morning at 7.31 that anonymous groan transports John 167 miles and nearly 30 years back to another day, another unforgiving minute that will always stay with him. A minute when John sits, like an angel looking down on the world, atop a set of shoulders – much like his own shoulders today, strong, steadfast, secure – and watches as faces, expressing both nothing and despair – begin to turn blue. He watches as the crowd sways like a single creature – massive, monstrous and murderous – and begins to crush each cell, squeezes the breath from each component part.
Every morning, when time has ceased to have any meaning, John says goodbye once more to the man on whose shoulders he sits, as he takes his last sliver of a breath. And even in that last moment when his eyes lose their focus and he lets go of life he holds John aloft – safe and secure from the beast below and within.
Every morning, at 7.52 when once again the clocks start on their inexorably journey towards tomorrow, John stands on the platform that is journey’s end and wipes his brow. He dabs away his tears and straightens his tie. He adjusts his jacket and checks his shoes for scuffs. And he smiles. Not for surviving the crush. It is not the crush he fears. He fears the day when he no longer embraces the crush, when he cannot find it within himself to grasp that moment when he is at one, albeit just briefly, with his saviour, his love, his father.