Clean

I think of those days often, when I seemed to spend my life on trains. In some ways, I’ve never left that journey, and the landmarks along the way have assumed the importance of personal ciphers. The dead tree at the centre of a marsh, pale as bone. The clearing at the edge of a wood, where I frequently watched muntjac fleeing from the edge of the track. A white owl that flew beside the train. The habits and behaviours of regular commuters similarly became fascinating to me. The woman who carried two bags stuffed with cushions, to prop up a DVD player. The man who stood by the train doors, draining can after can of lager, his jaw clenched in an expression of fury. The way everyone, including myself, suspended their lives for these daily journeys, caught up in the cinema of the reeling landscape. One time, I’d boarded an empty carriage, when I was joined by another man. He wore plastic gloves, and a scarf tied tightly around his mouth. I watched, trying to hide my curiosity behind a book, as he retrieved disinfectant spray and a packet of wipes from his rucksack, and with care and diligence cleaned every surface around his seat. For the short journey, he sat poised and uncomfortable, rigid in a posture of disgust. I remember feeling his behaviour bordered on the sinister: this overwhelming need to be clean.

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