Off The Rails

“You know, if you wanted to, I reckon you could bring half the country to a standstill with just seven or eight small devices.” Tariq said, as they sauntered up the platform, alongside their train and on their way to Waterloo proper. If anybody else in the rush to get off the platform heard him, they didn’t react. They were in far too much of a hurry to get on with their day – to make their connections, or catch a cab.

Despite the lack of fuss his friend’s words caused, David flinched, though it was followed quickly by a sharp laugh.

“Fucking hell, Riq! You can’t say that…” He offered.

“Why not?” He winked at David winningly. “Jesus, look…”

Tariq indicated the platform gate, where two guards, one male and one female, checked tickets – even from here, it was obvious that their hearts weren’t really in it. The other passengers from the lads’ train were huddled around, bottle-necking into this slow-moving channel.

Tariq signalled across, away from the not-quite-queue, and the two traversed the long platform lengthways. As they walked, Tariq pointed out the lack of any staff, and nodded to their left, where the other platforms stuck out from the path they walked like tines on a fork. Some of these platforms had trains resting along them, idling while they waited for the bored clean-up crews, or the even more bored passengers.

“See?” Tariq said, waving at one of them. “They sometimes check tickets off people coming on and off this big platform, but they don’t bother keeping a proper eye on people going across here, using it as a shortcut. What’s to stop you jumping on a train, a dozen small bombs in a laptop case disguised as fag packets, or crushed up Costa coffee cups?

You drop one under a chair, or in a bin near the front where the driver sits, or somewhere, get off at the next stop – preferably one close-by, before it leaves London – double back to Waterloo, skip onto another train, and do it all again.”

David looked at him, eyes wide, almost incredulous, though really he was well used to this sort of conversation. Tariq was prone to flights of fancy.

“And then?” He said.

“Well, and then you go home. Or go to Burger King across the way, or wherever. If you can be arsed to get up and start first thing, you can probably be done by noon. Up at noon, you’ll be finished by five, maybe. You get your mobile…”

“Why?”

“Well, the bombs – I’m sure it’s not hard to wire them up to the guts of a moby. You cue up a text-message to all of the bombs at once, and send. Boom!”

“Boom?”

“Yeah.”

“What about if the train is out of signal? Like down around Winchester?”

“What about it? The bomb’ll pick up the text as soon as it’s in range.”

“I don’t know… that all sounds a bit chaotic. You wouldn’t even know where the trains would all be when they went off.”

Tariq looked at David as if he was mad.

“And that matters why? Don’t you remember how nuts it gets in this country when just one train derails every few months? Even if only half the trains are moving at speed when the bombs go off, you’re talking about a country that doesn’t know what the fuck is going on…” He laughed and looked away. “Jesus, how much carnage do you actually need before you’re impressed, dude?”

They exited the platform at a quiet gate, and entered Waterloo Station proper. Both had been here before, and knew exactly where they were going. They aimed through the crowds that bustled around the floor of the tall and vast building, and headed for the Tube.

Small huddles of Police and station guards stood out in the throng. They tended to find a spot and stick to it, to try to keep an eye on the crowd.

“See, I read this blog, and this guy, he said that once you start having too many rules and restrictions for guards or police to keep an eye on, general security actually fails, because there’s no more room for common sense. And too much room for exceptions.
Like, those police, maybe they saw me, and for a second – because we both know that they profile, whatever the official word is – they thought ‘Brown skin, could be a terrorist’.”

“Plus, you know, you’re talking about bombing out half the trains in the country, while we walk through a crowded train station…”

“Well, yeah, that too. But then, they see that I don’t have a rucksack, and I’m hanging out with a happy-go-lucky ginger fucker, and chances are I’m off the list as soon as they clock all that.” David didn’t bother getting offended at the insult – it was already the twentieth or thirtieth such jibe of the day.

“So, how is that a bad thing? Sounds like their checklist is working fine there, doesn’t it? I mean, you’re not a terrorist.”

“That’s for sure.” Said Tariq. “But what about you? Since when did we as a nation stop worrying about the Irish? You look at the stats, I bet you’d find that a lot more terrorist attacks in this country over the last twenty years were carried out by Paddys than Pakis.”

“Quite aside from the fact that that is possibly the most offensive thing that I have ever heard you say, in every direction…” David said, holding his tone because he knew a smirk would only encourage the fucker, “And already well aware that there’s absolutely no point me asserting this again: I’m not fucking Irish.”

“Well, you might as well be, looking like that.” Tariq said, and looked away from his friend again, trying to find the least busy turnstile down to the Northern Line. David thumped Tariq’s back with the flat of his hand, laughing.

As they were transported down into the depths of the earth by an escalator, the occassional thrum of trains passing through the dirt filling the air around them, the conversation continued.

“I really have no respect for suicide-bombers.” Tariq said, raising his voice over the mechanical sound of the shifting steps.

“Is that right?” David said, giving a small and embarassed shrug to an old brown lady who was glaring at them from the up escalator. “… And why is that?”

“Well, how difficult can it be to plan and pull off a terrorist attack that you actually stand a chance of surviving? Have you noticed how hard everyone tries hard not to notice anything in places like this?”

David took a proper look around. He had to admit, aside from the old lady, everyone else was making a real effort to just stare ahead of themselves, and ignore everything else. And the more he thought about it, he wondered whether the woman’s dissaproval wasn’t more likely to do with Tariq’s brightly dyed hair.

“Hm.” David said, by way of agreement.

“You ask me, a person who straps explosives to themselves, or whatever, isn’t really trying very hard.”

Tariq hung back when they reached the Underground platform, and let the crowd assemble on the thin strip of ground there. To him, it looked like far more people than should be able to fit where crammed into that shifting space.

“I mean, really, everyone’s supposed to be so scared of terrorism,” he said, “but when you’re down here, aren’t you just more afraid that someone stupid or vindictive will push you onto the tracks, and you’ll die down there, looking up at everyone here, begging them to save you?”

David looked back at him, now a little perturbed. “Well, I wasn’t, before just this minute…” He said.

The two stood side by side, each of their backs arched slightly against the potential of pressure, finally silent. After what seemed, to both of them, like ages, the train rumbled heavily in to the platform.

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Nicolas Papaconstantinou
Nicolas Papaconstantinou is an enthusiastic amateur creative type, and the chap behind Elephant Words. Be nice to him. He growed up kinda wrong.

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