His face is less than a foot from mine, close enough for me to notice the faint powdery smell of his soap and the small patch on his neck he missed while shaving. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. I don’t even know this man’s name. Instead of a romantic date, I’m actually on the tube making my way back from my internship to the International Students House I call home, and I’m pressed up against Mr. ______ out of necessity rather than choice.
For those of you unfamiliar with the tube, it’s an extensive network of underground train lines that interweave beneath London. And during rush hour, it’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare. Luckily I’m not, since I can’t move an inch in any direction without bumping into someone. If the door opened suddenly, I’m convinced at least a handful of us would tumble out onto the concrete.
When I descended the stairs into the tube station after my internship and saw the hoard of people waiting to cram into the next train, I almost turned to leave and walk home instead. But in a moment of adventurousness, or maybe insanity, I thought, “When in Rome, er, London…” and allowed myself to be swept into the train along with the crowd.
For Londoners, the tube is a dull part of their daily commute at best, but as a small-town Wisconsin girl, I’m fascinated by it. I’ve already ridden a dozen times in my first two weeks here, and I’ve discovered it provides ideal people watching opportunities. Like the man who rode the whole way to his stop singing about Jesus. Or another man I once saw get off at a stop, only to get right back on a little further down the compartment. Or perhaps my favorite: the man I saw exiting with his dog. I wonder if he had to pay two fares. I’m guaranteed to encounter someone entertaining on every trip.
The train finally hits Edgware Road, my stop, and I maneuver my way past weary Brits and confused-looking foreigners alike to quit the train, climb the stairs, and emerge aboveground. The street is a different kind of crowded: with vehicles rather than pedestrians. As I walk the remaining block home, I think about how the person I was closest to today, the man on the tube, with whom I didn’t exchange so much as a hello with and will probably never see again among the seven million people here. I remember the ad for a dating site on one of the trains that read, “Your future husband could be sitting below this sign.” Maybe Mr. ______ could have been mine, but now I’ll never know. I guess London’s like that.