Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

009 : Benjamin Mmusi on the 9.35 to White City Bond St Tube Station, Central Line
Born in 1981 in Nottingham. Benjamin Mmusi currently works as a Somnambulist Why London? It’s like living on a giant Monopoly board, only without the free parking. He digs the following London bits: the lettering on old underground signs, the Diplodocus at the Natural History Museum, big leaves, borough Market and Tottenham Hotspur. He is, however, a bit miffed by the price of a pint, scaffolding, the price of a second pint, shootings and Tottenham Hotspur. For more info on Benjamin Mmusi you should send an email.

image: E. Nagase

“His voice falters, but refuses to capsize.”

Look at me. Why won’t she look at me? I’m sat right here, sat right across from her. So why won’t she look at me?

Can she even see me? An interesting point. Does anyone really see anyone down here? Commuters are just ghosts, after all. Phantoms with briefcases and overcoats. A person underground barely resembles their doppelganger on the surface. Their expression, gait, whole demeanour changes. Same goes for the rules of engagement. Social interaction vs social inaction.

Take this one. Every day we get on at the same stop and sit on this train, inches apart, knees all but touching. There’s every possibility we’ll continue to do so until we are well into our winter years. How strange, to grow old with a person yet never speak to them. To look at them but never see them.

Not all of these ghosts are as quiet. The old Jamaican playing unidentifiable songs on his guitar could actually use some of whatever shuts the rest of us up.[1] His voice swims against an invisible current, resurfacing without panic just when you think it’s gone under for good.

Still she doesn’t look at me.

A wailing infant crashes right through the busker’s wave. His voice falters, but refuses to capsize. The old pro. Tinny syncopating rhythms pulsate from too-loud headphones, a couple of office drones bleat about their bosses, school children jeer and mock each other, but the old Jamaican plays on. Tourists shuffle their maps, the train tremors along uneven tracks, an announcement blares overhead and still he plays and still she doesn’t look at me.

Suddenly he stops, gets up, removes his hat, asks for change. A deafening silence yawns in front of him. Cheerfully he strides into it, through it, into the next car. The door rattles behind him in bleak applause.

She looks at the door; why won’t she look at me?

The scene jerks, brakes scream and inertia lurches through the carriage. Newspapers hit the floor, locks clamp. The tourists cast about nervously, unable to commit to a decision. The school kids punch one another and jostle their way to the exit. Rows of ghosts rise and file past us. Framed in the light that flickers between them, she looks like an old film.

Why won’t she look at me?

Wait. She is.[2]

referenced works

  1. According to LondonLogue: “In 2001 London Underground got the law changed to allow licenced busking on the Tube in an effort to raise the quality of musicians performing. There are now 33 licensed ‘pitches’ spread over 22 central London stations where buskers can set up and perform.” This doesn’t stop roaming unlicensed buskers from working moving trains carriage by carriage, sometimes accompanying their performances with impassioned speeches to their captive audiences, who invariably fail to even look at them, let alone give them money.

  2. The Metro, London’s first free newspaper, initiated its Commuter Cupid service in May 2006 in a bid to bring together couples exchanging fleeting glances on public transport. Those wishing to place a notice on the miniscule off-chance that the person they’re actually talking about will end up reading it, and who are prepared to risk that dream individual turning out to be as incompatible with them as statistics suggest they will, can do so here.

location information

  • Name: Bond St Tube Station, Central Line
  • Time of story: Morning
  • Latitude: 51.514444752021404
  • Longitude: -0.1493239402770996
  • Map: Google Maps


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