The Girl On The Train

Ok so this is gonna sound a bit creepy but I like to watch. I walk onto the train, grab a seat _ there are benefits to being at the start/end of the tube line _ and ready myself for the show. The Victoria line is my happy place. Sure it can get crowded, hot and smelly but so far no one has screamed for biscuits or demanded Hey Duggee at the top of their voices so we’re smooth sailing. Some days I’ll just make like an ostrich or any other sensible London commuter and bury my head in a magazine. But on others, especially if I’ve had little sleep and cannot but avoid all semblance of movement in order to conserve energy to stay awake at work, I just sit and watch my fellow commuters. So far I have seen the same people many times, sometimes on the way out and sometimes , though this is rarer, on the way back. There is the woman with the short skirt, fishnets, burgundy lipstick and eyeliner so thick it could hide nuclear secrets underneath. There is the blind man that gets on the tube with the seasoned prowess of a warrior. There is the woman in her mid forties in the thinning, greying brown hair. She sometimes morphs into a fiercely awake being if chatting to acquaintances that happen to take the same train, using the words of teenagers and clinging on to her FOMO. And then there is Ally Capelino  – she always carries a backpack by this brand and looks like an Ally so I commute baptised her (totally a thing) and her boyfriend.

I used to see the Capelinos once every two weeks. Looking every bit the displaced Dalston hipsters in their suede shoes and tailored clothes, they always got on the last carriage at Walthamstow Central, sitting together by the very end of the car. He read, she did her makeup, always a gaze stealer, especially at the mascara part. I honestly don’t know how anyone does this when I, on a perfectly immobile floor in my bathroom, still manage to nearly take out my retina and smudge shit all over my face. But I digress. They chatted, they laughed. They were together proper, emanating the glow of two incomes no kids, Friday nights spent long into dawn and Saturday mornings slept well into afternoons.

It had been a few months since I’d seen them, what with the kid dictating that late for work is mum’s forever thing. But today there they were. Sitting together, reading, doing make-up, and a shiny brand new baby on board badge adorning her coat. I had to sort of contain myself to not go over and give her a big, massive hug and shout congratulations with a small side of commiserations like I had known them all my life. But the thing is they have sort of been my life soap opera for a while now and if I had explained this to them I am sure they would have been ok with it. Or called the police. Or commute baptised me Rachel from the Girl On The Train book because I could pass for her. I am not an alcoholic but I go through life drunk on sleeplessness, experiencing periods of euphoria and sometimes waking up not knowing where I am (usually at my keyboard at work). But I still wanted to tell her life’s about to get interesting. I wanted to tell her that make up will be the last thing on her mind for a while and then it will be everything on her mind, especially concealer.  Concealer, not nipple pads, bottle warmers or baby carriers, will be her number one tool/weapon/lifeline. It will be the difference between people talking to her or offering to take her to hospital, although on second thought… beds and nurses. Maybe skip the concealer. Just kidding. DON’T.

I wanted to tell her she won’t be pregnant forever even when it feels that way. I wanted to tell her that while she will never be the same again once that human pops out she hasn’t gone away. That even when she feels she’s been taken hostage by this boob sucking creature, when the only things going round and round are the wheels on the buses and not spins on the dancefloor, she is still there. I wanted to tell her she may not be saying the words “you wanna do shots tomorrow?” any time soon unless she and her pal are planning on going together to the baby clinic to get their kids vaccinated, but she is still the dancing queen. It’s just that the beat has changed and there’s less glitter _ not necessarily a bad thing. I wanted to tell her to eat the biscuits. She has just made a human from scratch and got it out into the world. She should eat the biscuits, all the biscuits at all times and leave bouncing back in weeks to the aliens or the genetically gifted.  I wanted to tell her about other mothers, and if they seem to have their shit together while she’s wondering what the hell just happened, to look for the virtual Sellotape. There is every chance they too are holding on by a thread but feeling the need to put on a brave face to avoid judgement. This is hard. And beautiful. And hard, And beautiful. And it will stay that way forever because kids are little shits that have also got the key to our innards.

I wanted to tell her if someone says her choices are wrong she can tell them about instances when their choices are really important and to be voiced out loud. Like presidential elections or referendums. I wanted to tell her that her kid won’t die if his apples are not organic, that most of her real weight will not come from pregnancy or those biscuits in the early days but from polishing off her kid’s untouched dinners night after night and that she will only ever eat chocolate again behind doors or in bathrooms. I wanted to tell her failure does not take the form of chicken nuggets and that success is not measured in vegetables, although it’s ok to do a little celebratory dance every time anything green gets swallowed, provided it’s not a slug. I wanted to tell her that chocolate is a perfectly acceptable bargaining tool and that TV won’t turn the precious cherub into a zombie but will instead serve the very commendable task of stopping her going postal. I wanted to tell her that when she feels she’s been dealt a tough hand to stop and look around. Comparison hardly ever helps but perspective does.

wanted to tell her that it’s ok to ask for help when the Tetris game of motherhood hits next level and that you don’t get any awards from being on your knees, only blisters. I wanted to let her know that self-soothing babies are an urban myth, that her bed will probably house a child every night and that feet will be wedged against her ribs long after pregnancy kicks are but a distant memory. I wanted to tell her the next time she sleeps will be in her (day) dreams, that there will be tears, darkness as far as the eye can see and moments when she wishes that kid came with a gift receipt. I wanted to tell her that once the baby on board badge leaves her chest it will forever live in the heart as the new diminutive dweller migrates there and grabs hold of vessels, takes control of blood flow, messes up the aortic furniture, grafittis his milestones all over the tissue walls and doesn’t even pay rent. But I wanted to tell her to take that heart in all its new, messy and engorged glory, mostly because it will be her motor, her force, her self-driving vehicle, her shelter against the storm of parenthood, her soother when shit hits the fan (sometimes literally), and her safety net when sanity threatens to crumble, beating with the force of giants, facing all the monsters, slaying all the dragons and mopping up all of the world’s love with endless absorption power. And that it beats Friday night cocktails. Just about.

But mostly I would tell her about the concealer.

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Mum Muddling Through
About me

Full-time working mother to one Speedy Gonzales of a little boy trying to keep her sanity, pay check and clean hair. On most days.


Catarina Bouca
April 12, 2020

Hi Joana. Long time no see you! Last time, 15 years ago in Lisbon, I think!
I also have a Son and loved this piece. I Will jeep reading your beautiful blog... Hugs

July 23, 2018

Thank you Laura! They do indeed, we're doomed! :D Big hugs to you xx

July 20, 2018

This is a beautiful piece; I really enjoy people watching and give people names too! Her life is about to get very interesting indeed. It's so true that these small people have the key to our innards - and they know exactly what buttons to press! #CoolMumClub

June 7, 2018

Great piece! Very moving! Xxx

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