Not in Service



When a tube train has the words NOT IN SERVICE on the front, you’re not supposed to get on it. That’s why I got on it.

Come on, it stopped and opened its doors right in front of me. They never do that when they’re not in service. It was late enough that there were only a couple of other people waiting, and they both heeded the tannoy’s orders not to get on the train. It was that officious tone echoing down the platform that clinched it. What could I do but the opposite of what it was telling me?

I slipped through one of the single doors at the end of the carriage and ducked behind the seats, out of sight of the cameras at either end. The doors rumbled closed and off we went to wherever trains go when they’re not in service. Goodge Street station accelerated past and there was the tunnel wall, inches from the window. Goodge Street’s only a couple of minutes from Tottenham Court Road, so I felt the train slow down soon enough. Tottenham Court Road is busier than Goodge Street, so I got to watch a row of faces parade past the window, each showing the Londoner’s frustration at having to wait all of three minutes for a train that would let them on.

I chuckled to myself. I hadn’t waited like them. If the cost of skipping that three-minute wait was that I didn’t know where I’d end up, I’d call it a good deal. I’ve never been one to turn away when an adventure offers itself.

The tunnel walls were back now and the train was accelerating again, though it would have to slow down for Leicester Square in a couple of minutes. Even out of service trains slow down for in-service platforms.

There was something hypnotic about roar and sway of the empty train, and the rattle as it bumped over something uneven in the rails beneath it. It made it hard to keep track of time, but it must have been close to the couple of minutes it normally takes to get from Tottenham Court Road to Leicester Square.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check the time. No signal down here of course, but it read 00:02. Two minutes past midnight. With nothing else to do, so I started calculating when we’d pass each station. We should be through Leicester Square at any minute so we’d hit Charing Cross at around five past, which would put us in Embankment at what? Seven or eight minutes past?

I yawned. So much for that to keep my mind occupied. As the train was not in service, there were none of the usual newspapers abandoned on the seats. I’m not usually a fan of the Evening Standard, but it would have passed the time. Some of my adventures turn out less exciting than the impulses that send me off on them.

I blinked, wondering if I’d dozed off. Crouching on the floor wasn’t an easy position to sleep in, but the train’s rattle-and-sway was better than a lullaby. I’d never noticed how repetitive it is.

Where was Leicester Square? I looked at my phone again. Still 00:02. Strange. It must have been more than a minute since I last looked.

I looked up to the tunnel wall, lined with cables rendered a uniform grey by brake dust. They ran parallel to the rails I was speeding down, lining my route to whatever destination I had committed myself to.

Some impulse made me switch my phone to timer mode. I watched seconds flick past.

00:00:01, 00:00:02, 00:00:03, 00:00:04, 00:00:05…00:00:01.

That couldn’t be right.

I reset it.

00:00:01, 00:00:02, 00:00:03, 00:00:04, 00:00:05…00:00:01

I tried again.

00:00:01, 00:00:02, 00:00:03, 00:00:04, 00:00:05…00:00:01

I returned it to my pocket. I couldn’t see it in there.

I concentrated on the rattle and sway again. Now I was looking for it, it wasn’t merely repetitive. The sounds and movements repeated themselves precisely. Over and over again.

My eyelids are heavy. I pinch myself to stay awake. I set a five minute alarm on my phone in case I drop off, then I remember it will never sound.

I am so very sleepy.

When a tube train has the words NOT IN SERVICE on the front, you’re not supposed to get on it.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

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