There was a zombie woman on my early morning train.
Her face was a skeleton. Smooth tea-coloured skin stretched over dry bones. Milky blank eyes of faint cataract blue. Colourless dry wisps of hair stuck to the dome of her skull.
Her maw was opened. Dark. Like a tunnel. The dry lips strained. Mouthing.
She stared forward. Focusing on nothing. On no-one.
More dead than alive.
And yet, still she moved amongst us!
I looked around the crowded train to see if anyone else had noticed the Death Stare Zombie Woman on the packed commuter carriage to Hell (next stop London Waterloo).
But everyone seemed calm. Dull-witted. Asleep, yet standing.
Swaying. Clutching their phones, their tablets, their e-readers, their morning papers. Someone even had a paperback book. Old Skule style.
No-one had noticed the open-mouthed yawning look of death of the Zombie Woman.
No one was scared she might bite. Might waken into a tearing ravenous rage.
Were they all dead too?
A half-remembered line of T.S. Eliot poetry crawled through my mind.
‘So many… I had not thought Death had undone so many.’
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
From The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
He knew it already, even then, back in 1922!
He saw it.
This sad, shambling semblance of life.
The mindless swarm, the meaningless repetitions of daily commute, of deadly life.
Going through the zombified living death, day after day.
I stared out of the window as the train slowed on the outskirts of central London.
The smut-stained streets and walls of Victorian houses, old businesses and ageing shuttered warehouses. The closed, dark, dusty past, now being overshadowed by the city’s shining steel and glass newness.
That was when I noticed something. There, poking out of the top of a rusting black drainpipe, clinging sadly to a drab brick wall.
A straggling scribble of life (‘bush’ would be too big a word to describe it).
A struggling buddleia growing – or trying to grow – from an old drainpipe, hanging from a dying building.
No soil. No nurturing.
Just trying its best to live, to survive, in a grim and hostile city environment.
Nobody loves it, I muse.
Yet still it clings to its stupid, meaningless life at the top of an old London roof.
How many years of dirt and disregard has it survived to get there?
And yet, there it is.
A buddleia – a ‘butterfly bush’.
And I thought: life persists.
I hope it was worth it, little bush.
I hope the butterflies will come to you.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter …
… I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
From The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
The train dragged itself into the mainline station and the zombies shuffled out onto platforms to go and bite other people, or work in offices or shops or whatever they do for a ‘living’.
I lost sight of the Zombie Woman amongst the murmuring, moaning walking dead.
It left me thinking: how many years have we all survived to get here?
Half-dead, but persistent.
Often disregarded, sometimes un-nurtured, we are all clinging on to our lives.
It’s banal. It’s trite.
But Life goes on.
And so can I.
My London Observations are an occasional series
fuelled by sporadic bouts of freelance copywriting