Image: © Katharina Schwarck
Author: Katharina Schwarck
Trigger Warning: This text contains mentions of anxiety and stress
I had had a long day at work. My co-workers had made me stand at the self-check-out for six hours, which is not legal at all but I didn’t dare tell them. Therefore, as I took my hourly train back home, I could really feel the strain on my knees and feet. I was so tired. Trains stress me out. I am always worried about missing my stop or falling asleep or getting off at the wrong stop. Thinking about it, that would never actually happen to me because I am so careful about where I am. I always follow the stops on the screen and listen very attentively to the loud-speaker voice. I also look outside to make sure the computer isn’t making any mistakes. When it’s dark outside I follow myself on a GPS on my phone. So really, I couldn’t miss my stop. I still worry about it. But actually, the possibility of missing my stop isn’t even the worst part of taking the train; it’s the people. I am lucky, I usually go to work at times where the train is not too full. If it were, I don’t know what I’d do. I panic when there are too many people around me. I hate it. I cannot. I just feel so bad and I want to explode and leave and disappear. I also don’t like being in a place that so many people have touched? It’s like I can feel their germs and bacteria and spilled drinks and sticky candy and puke and urine. All these things lead me to taking the train at very non-busy times where I stand on the cleanest spot and don’t touch anything. Today, however, my feet were hurting so much that I really wanted to sit. I wish I was at home and could just sit down on something clean without anyone around. But I still had a 15-minute train ride to go. I was standing in front of four seats, one of which was taken by a sleeping, rather over-weight man and I was imagining being able to sit down on one of them. They repulsed me so much. I moved my weight from one foot to the other and felt a stinging pain in my right knee. I still could not bring myself to sit on those filthy seats. I cannot even think about what must have touched the floor before my shoes stepped on it. The train had left my train station and was slowly getting to the next stop. While driving up, I looked outside the dark window. Although it was late in the evening, the train station was packed. Tens and tens of people in hockey jerseys were waiting for the train that I was on. They were all going to get on my train and I knew that they were going to be loud. They were not only going to be loud, they were going to be standing around me and their bodies were going to touch mine. The train stopped and the doors opened and in a moment of panic I sped towards a free seat and sat down just before the crowd streamed into the train and filled every single bit with sweat, cries and laughter. I felt relieved. My jeans were touching the seat but the pressure on my knees was gone. I breathed in deeply. The sounds around me started to become just one mass of noise. I locked myself into my head. I reopened my eyes with panic as something touched my shoulder. The rather over-weight man I had sat next to had put his sleeping head on my shoulder??? Oh god. Oh god. I couldn’t move him. His head was so heavy and I couldn’t ask him to wake up and there were so many people around me who could watch me. Oh god. My heart was racing and I started to feel dizzy and my fingers were starting to tingle and oh my god. I had eight minutes to go. Eight minutes. Oh god he’d just started snoring. Seven minutes. Seven minutes until I could get up with a valid excuse of having to get off at my train station. Six minutes. Had it been two minutes already? I was impressed by myself for a split-second until the panic came back. Okay, focus, I told myself. Focus. So, I closed my eyes and focused on the warmth of his head. He didn’t even smell bad. Most people smell bad. I could even feel him breathe in deeply. There was a stranger’s head on my shoulder and I was starting to feel calmer. I focused even more. There was a blur of sound around me. There was just myself, in this situation. I opened my eyes again. The man had a big red suitcase in front of him. I looked more closely; the front bit of the suitcase had a pink unicorn sticker on it, which clashed horribly with the bright red of the suitcase. I also noticed that the handle of the suitcase was wrapped in numerous airline stickers from various places to various places. They all looked recent. Gazing more to the side, I saw that the man was holding a photograph between his hands. It was a picture of him with a smiling woman and two little girls. One of the girls was carrying a plush unicorn. All of them looked really happy. A wedding ring was shining from his hand. I noticed that the man was wearing a strange necklace. It seemed to be composed of different kinds of pasta, pulled on a string. There were a few poorly coloured paper flowers, too. I smiled. The man moved his head to the side. I didn’t move. All of a sudden I noticed the train stopping and rapidly turned my head outside to see what stop it was and sprinted out.