I travel with this woman on the tube every day.
She is huge and dark. With the rounded belly and sagging breasts of a mother of many. With long skirts spread over the floor. Her powerful thighs are outlined beneath. No shoes are visible but I can somehow guess that she is barefoot. Her arms are hanging to the sides, lifeless. Her hair is long, black and braided. There is an earthen tang around her. I call her the Mexican.
I cannot see her face because she always pretends to be sleeping. But under that apparent calm I know that she is wakeful and watching. On her guard, one part of her is turned towards the world. Her skin breathes and listens to what is outside, that which keeps her sane, on the surface of madness. Outside of the den of her soul.
And half of her is turned in, shivering. She soaks every movement and whiff of air. Inside, where the powers of chaos and darkness reside. She knows what follows, if not today, then tomorrow. It is inevitable.
A small room, with a wooden floor and a chair in the right corner. In the middle, a sack full of darkness. Inside it doubts and eyes that want to see slink darkly. Every little monster, guilt and fear, all those little, insignificant and unnamed, faceless, well-forgotten shadows. All those moments, quickly ignored because they seem unimportant, brief emotions of the daily grind, words and gestures, all that, for which there was no time then, all are thrown inside the sack, unprocessed, unrecognised, unloved.
Those are her children.
She looks around, weighs every breath and thought. And sooner or later, it happens. One by one they raise their voices, a choir of wails and doubts. Questions, seemingly innocent, but ground-shakingly fearsome. She has to be careful not to let THEM come out of there, out of the basement of her inner being.
I see her sweat and hold her breath so she can tame the turmoil inside. The floor and ceiling, all the staircases and windows begin dancing a wondrous dance of shapelessness. The rational outlines of the familiar fall apart, crumpled like soft plasticine by the expansion of her thought, and every sound reforms the order. The old universe dies, and a new one is immediately born. The game of hide-and-seek begins again.
The sack becomes bigger than everything else and takes up all the space inside, all of her being. And if the outer world manages to distract her even for a moment, she notices that her nightmare-bearing children have escaped to the outside.
The train car rocks rhythmically, but she falls through while sitting in her seat. She is as heavy as a stone, as a sculpture, unfinished, uncarved, unthought into creation. I hear prayer words, quickly whispered. It looks like this would be the end. The darkness breaks over her skin. The children want their freedom, so they can play outside. To discover the world. To be free.
She and I both hold our breath. The body pulses, hardened despite the warmth and the bodies of the people around us. I think I will die, I hold my breath until I feel I will explode. The adrenaline rumbles through my head and ears. Everything is white and I am at a peak. At the top of a white peak. Below the clouds.
Then I feel them coming from every direction. Her children swarm among the people, push everything in its way, come towards me. The one on my left side is blue. Without hair. In a red dress. Words and images frozen in the past jump over its skin. It now has a face, barely outlined features, it is not anonymous. It is the unsaid in the hundreds of conversations, oppressed by being lived out and then forgotten. It sits on my knee. I befriend it. Tell it I love it. The others slowly come and embrace me. Blue, black, ugly and sad. They pile around me and I am happy. We are one whole. We are all below the clouds.
I finally breathe in.
It is our stop.
I get up. I catch my image in the window. I am a good mother to my demons. The Mexican inside me nods in agreement.