Anarchy 44/In the trucks

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In the trucks


I have no idea how many hun­dreds are packed into the trucks. Heads down in self-defence, look­ing for foot­holds, partly an­xiously-resist­ing and partly eager to find a safe place, they are pushed, rammed in­side. And once in, their heads come up again, strain­ing for air. The air is foetid. Shoul­der to shoul­der or face to face they breathe each other’s breath. They are crammed so tight, their weight is not on their feet but on each other. They sway in one mass, as the truck sways, then break into jost­ling des­per­ate atoms, fight­ing for their ba­lance, as the truck jolts. They are com­pletely power­less, but they cannot fall—unless the
doors are opened. Is there no law against this?

  Men move down beside the trucks, cram­ming them in, push­ing against their rumps so that they can close the doors on them. Some­times the doors will not close on the solid bodies, and then the men run and swear and shout and push harder until they force the mute ac­cept­ing bodies half an inch further inside, and the doors meet and the truck moves off.

  Heads nuzzle each other, cheek touches cheek, body presses on body, chin rests on an­other’s shoul­der, in an ap­pal­ling mock­ery of ten­der­ness. At first they try des­per­ately to get away from each other, to stand alone, to breathe their own air. But it is im­pos­sible, and soon their eyes close and they see nothing. Do they then sec­retly re­gain dig­nity, or only the re­lief of blank­ness?

  Such tired eyes. How weary they are, how ut­terly weary. I look through at the packed, sweat­ing mass, and of every ten heads I see, in seven the eyes are closed. Yet the jour­ney is only just be­gin­ning. When­ever the truck grinds to a halt, the eyes open, blink once or twice, and peer round, then close once again in an im­pas­sive re­sig­na­tion. Those near the door fall as the door is opened, and, re­gain­ing ba­lance, either stand there be­wil­dered and buf­feted and some­times knocked head­long again by those who fall after them and those who at once fight their way through to the air, or else, caught in a new moving mass, are them­selves pushed in­ex­or­ably along to an­other path, an­other truck. Is there no law against it, no humane Act of Par­lia­ment, no in­di­vidual moved enough, angry enough, to shout aloud as poets and writ­ers once shouted?

  What is so ex­tra­ordin­ary is their pas­siv­ity. They were proud creatures once. One hears—at chosen times—of their in­de­pend­ence, their spir­it­ed­ness, their in­dom­it­abil­ity. Surely they have strength, they have in­tel­li­gence. Poems have been writ­ten about them. Songs have ex­alted them. Art­ists were once stirred by their gran­deur.

  Oc­ca­sion­ally one turns mo­ment­ar­ily on an­other and snarls a little with a sud­den flare of male­ness, or an­other tosses her head and sighs in in­fin­it­es­simal pro­test. But nothing hap­pens. The herd clamps it­self to­gether again, thigh against thigh.

  And eventu­ally they stumble out of the trucks, blink­ing, grate­ful enough that now they can breathe more easily, and they move their heavy heads with the half-closed eyes slowly from side to side, sur­prised to find move­ment will come at will, and they move up the London Tube train platform.