Mike Shevdon: Sixty-One Nails

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Mike Shevdon Sixty-One Nails
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    Sixty-One Nails
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Mike Shevdon

Sixty-One Nails


I was staring into space when it happened, so I didn't really see. I could feel the wind as the tube train buffeted towards the platform and hear the grinding and squealing as the driver applied the brakes. I was part of the crowd waiting for the train. There was no sign that the guy beside me was in any distress. He just stood there with everyone else, until the train was yards away. Then he stepped forwards, leaned over the edge and toppled onto the tracks.

I reached out my hand, pure reaction I suppose, in a futile attempt to pull him back. He fell away from my empty hand.

The electrical flash filled my eyes with vivid green spots and the screech from the train intensified until I was deaf as well as blind. The train juddered past me, finally stuttering to a halt fifteen or twenty yards down the track.

There was no chance he'd survived.

I stood on the platform, numb, while people pushed past me. Some were trying to get a look at what had happened, some trying to push past to the exit. No one asked me what I had seen. No one asked why I hadn't stopped him. I didn't even know what he looked like.

"We are sorry to announce that there will be no further trains on the District or Circle lines until further notice. This is due to…"

There was a significant pause while the announcement system sorted through its list of possible reasons and selected one.

"…a person on the line. London Underground apologises for any inconvenience this may cause to your journey."

I looked at the small group of ghouls crowded around the front of the train. Were they trying to see or were they just making sure it wasn't anyone they knew?

Personally, I could sympathise with someone who had reached a point in their life where they just wanted to flash out of existence with no chance of reprieve. It had a brutal simplicity to it, though you had to feel sorry for the crews that cleaned up afterwards. The Underground staff had arrived and were pushing people away. Nothing to be done. Nothing to see here. They helped the driver from the cab. His face was white and he couldn't stop his hands shaking.

I shook myself to clear my head, then turned away, walking back up the stairs from the platform and used my card to exit the barrier. The ticket hall looked out over Embankment and I could see a sharp shower had blown in, soaking cars and commuters alike. With the rain, the cabs would all be taken and the buses full. If I didn't want to get drenched then the best bet would be to use the covered walkway to Charing Cross Station, get the Northern Line up to Tottenham Court Road then take the Central Line into the City. I would have to be incredibly lucky to make it to the office in time for my morning meeting.

Running up the steps across from the station entrance, I wheezed towards Charing Cross. I wasn't fit enough for this. I'd only just caught my breath by the time I reached the entrance to the main concourse. I pushed through the swirls and eddies of the commuter crowds, heading for the entrance to the Underground. As I reached it, I saw the sign hastily chalked onto the board next to the stairs leading down. It said Tottenham Court Road Station was closed due to a suspect package left on the platform. I swore and kissed goodbye to my morning meeting.

Flicking open my phone, I hit the first speed-dial. My day was going to be spent playing catch-up and there was no way I was going to be able to leave early to collect my daughter from my ex-wife that evening. It was unusual for me to have Alex from Thursday, but she had Friday off school for a teacher training day. Katherine had arranged for me to have our daughter so she could go away with some friends for a long weekend. At least, that had been the plan.

The phone rang and rang. I was about to disconnect when she finally picked up.


"Katherine? It's Niall."

"Sorry, I was in the garden getting the washing in. It was such a nice day and then the rain came down. Now it's all wet again." She sounded breathless and annoyed.

"I'm ringing about tonight."

"Alex has her bag packed and ready and is looking forward to the long weekend with you. What's all that noise?" The station announcements boomed around me so I had to wait for a lull to speak.

"I'm sorry, Kath, but I haven't even made it to the office yet. Some guy committed suicide on the tube line and I'm going to be really late. I'll have to work tonight. Can I fetch her in the morning?"

"Don't do this to me, Niall. You promised."

"A guy died, Katherine. I was right there."

"So take some time off."

"I have taken time off. I have all day Friday. I just can't be there this evening to collect-"

"You're doing this deliberately, aren't you?"


"You're just doing this to spoil my weekend. You can't bear me having any time to myself."

"Now you're overreacting."

"I am not overreacting!" her voice rose in pitch, "You promised weeks, no, months ago, to keep this weekend free and to collect Alex after she got home from school so I could have a weekend away."

"I know, but it's not my fault. The trains are really-"

"It never is your fault, Niall, that's your problem."

"That's not fair. Look, I've got to go, otherwise I'm never going to get there."

"That's right, run away. Leave me holding the baby. Again."

"Katherine, I haven't got time for this discussion now, OK?"

"Just ring me when you're leaving the office. It doesn't matter what time. Alex can stay up late. It's not like she's got school tomorrow, is it?"

"OK, I'll ring you. I promise."

Today was going to be a very long day. I closed my phone and took the steps downward two at a time and trotted along the passages into the underground station and looked at the tube map. If I took the Northern Line to Leicester Square then I could probably get a train from there that would get me into the City. By then the rain might have stopped and I might just get into work in time to salvage something from my morning.

I waved my card over the ticket barrier and it flipped open. Taking the down escalator, I pushed my way past the column of people standing to one side. Hearing the announcer on the platform ahead telling everyone to mind the closing doors, I dodged past people into the tunnels at the bottom and raced for the platform. I pushed my pace harder and made it just as the Doors Closing alarm started. Ramming myself through the gap between the closing doors, I forced them to re-open and then slam closed again under the resentful gaze of my fellow passengers.

My breath wheezed in my chest. Indigestion grumbled in my stomach, the result of coffee, no food and being wedged into an airless carriage. We rumbled down the tunnel for the two minute journey to Leicester Square. As soon as the doors opened, I joined the mass of people trudging down the platform into the echoing passage to the Piccadilly Line.

The commuters around me kept the same steady pace, unconscious of my need to hurry. Their footfalls resounded against the tiled walls like the march of a ragged army, their steps coming into time then falling out again. My attempts to squeeze past were met with glares of disapproval and a wall of cold shoulders until I resigned myself to yet further delay. I could hear the train arriving on the platform ahead and feel the warm rush of displaced air as it clattered onto the platform. I heard the announcement as the carriages halted, the words booming along the corridor. The press of people ahead bunched and slowed as they approached the platform entry, bringing us all to a shuffling halt.

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