Richard Mayhew walked down the underground platform. It was a District Line station: the sign said BLACKFRIARS. The platform was empty. Somewhere in the distance an Underground train roared and rattled, driving a ghost-wind along the platform, which scattered a copy of the tabloid Sun into its component pages, four-color breasts and black-and-white invective scurrying and tumbling off the platform and down onto the rails.
Richard walked the length of the platform. Then he sat down on a bench and waited for something to happen.
He rubbed his head and felt slightly sick. There were footsteps on the platform, near him, and he looked up to see a prim little girl walking past him, hand in hand with a woman who looked like a larger, older version of the girl. They glanced at him and then, rather obviously, looked away. “Don’t get too near to him, Melanie,” advised the woman, in a very audible whisper.
Melanie looked at Richard, staring in the way children stare, without embarrassment or self consciousness. Then she looked back at her mother. “Why do people like that stay alive?” she asked, curiously.
“Not enough guts to end it all,” explained her mother.
Melanie risked another glance at Richard. “Pathetic,” she said. Their feet pattered away down the platform, and soon they were gone. He wondered if he had imagined it. He tried to remember why he was standing on this platform. Was he waiting for a Tube train? Where was he going? He knew the answer was somewhere in his head, somewhere close at hand, but he could not touch it, could not bring it back from the lost places. He sat there, alone and wondering. Was he dreaming? With his hands he felt the hard red plastic seat beneath him, stamped the platform with mud-encrusted shoes (where had the mud come from?), touched his face . . . No. This was no dream. Wherever he was, was real. He felt odd: detached, and depressed, and horribly, strangely saddened. Someone sat down next to him. Richard did not look up, did not turn his head.