Sunday, 7 February 2010

62. A book without pictures or conversations

Alice was lost.

The clocks had long ago struck midnight and the Underground was empty. She didn’t really know London but she suspected she had missed the last Tube, leaving her wandering round and round a labyrinth of tiled corridors.

She was sure she was following the signs’ directions to the letter but she seemed to be going in circles, finding herself back in the same place time and time again, unable to find either the platforms or the exit. But her head was so fuzzy she couldn’t really be sure of anything.

She was surprised that she wasn’t panicky, but it was actually rather exciting – a faintly naughty privilege, like when she’d broken into school, strutting along the deserted corridors and sitting behind the teachers’ desks in vacant classrooms.

What was it with this stupid city? An hour earlier - she thought it was about that long - she had got the northbound Victoria line from Euston to King’s Cross. There she had found out that the trains weren’t going any further. So she had got on the northbound Northern line from King’s Cross, which then deposited her back at Euston, with an apology that trains were going no further from there. How was that even possible? So she had got back on the northbound Victoria line from Euston ...

There was something very familiar about all this. Something about getting very tired of waiting for her sister that morning, who was at Bank. Something about the perils of following the boy with the big feet and the waistcoat on to the Underground at Warren St. Something about being frustrated by things named after kings and queens.

Alice rubbed her eyes. Definitely something about eating the boy’s cakes. What had he put in them? She felt unsteady and uncoordinated, as if her limbs weren’t her own or were the wrong size.

“Who are you?”

Alice jumped. Not an encouraging opening for a conversation, but the tone was friendly enough.

It was a man carrying what looked like a bong or a hookah in a bag. Alice saw he was wearing a pair of industrial boots. They were made by Caterpillar. Of course they were.

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