Underground Time

Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan Read Free Book Online

Book: Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Delphine de Vigan
Bodies have fused together in a single compacted, harassed mass. Remarks have given way to silence, everyone is silently resigned to their fate, chins raised to the open windows, hands seeking support.
    Then Mathilde thinks that this too is how 20 May begins, with this miserable, absurd struggle. Nine stations to get through, nine suffocating stations, torn from the fever of a morning of crowds, nine stations of struggling for air surrounded by people who only use a bar and a half of soap a year.
    Suddenly a woman starts making strange sounds, high-pitched and progressively more drawn out. It’s not a cry nor a groan, more like a wail. She is holding on to the central pole, pressed between a generous bust and a rucksack. The sound that is coming from the woman’s mouth is unbearable. People turn round, observing her. They exchange perplexed glances. The woman is looking for someone who can help her. Mathilde manages to extricate her hand and put it on her arm. They look at each other. She smiles at her.
    The woman stops wailing. She’s breathing loudly, her face twisted in fear.
    ‘Aren’t you feeling well?’
    As soon as she asks the question Mathilde realises how stupid it is. The woman doesn’t answer. She’s making a superhuman effort not to scream. She’s breathing more and more loudly. She begins to wail again and then this time she screams. Comments start up on all sides, at first in low voices and then more audibly. What’s she thinking of, taking the metro on a day when there are technical problems, if she’s claustrophobic? Make her get off. Oh no, for God’s sake, don’t pull the emergency cord. We’re not out of the woods.
    The woman is a disruptive element, a human failure capable of holding up the trains.
    Mathilde’s hand is still on the woman’s arm. She’s trying to smile.
    ‘I’ll get off with you at the next station. It’ll only be a few seconds. See, the train’s slowing down.’
    The train stops, the doors open and Mathilde goes ahead of the woman to clear a passage. Please. Push. Let her through. She’s holding on to the woman’s sleeve.
    She looks to see which station they’re at. On the platform, below the sign that says Charonne, she makes her sit down. The woman seems to be calming down and Mathilde offers to go and get some water or something to eat from the vending machine. The woman starts to get agitated again. She’s going to be late, she mustn’t be, she can’t get back on the train, she’s only just found a job through a temp agency. Yes, she’s claustrophobic but she usually copes. She thought she was going to manage it.
    And then the woman starts breathing more loudly, gasping quicker and quicker. She’s trying to get air, her limbs seem shaken by tremors, her hands are clutching each other in a manner she can’t control.
    Mathilde asked for help and someone went up to the ticket office. A man from the transport authority in a blue-green suit has come down. He’s rung the fire brigade. The woman can’t stand up. Her whole body is tensed up and being shaken by jolts. She’s still breathing noisily.
    They wait.
    The platform is packed. The transport officials have created a security cordon. There are now three or four of them. All around, people form little groups, craning their necks.
    Mathilde wants to scream. She sees herself in the woman’s place, their images superimposed; for a brief moment they are one and the same person, swallowed by the neon signs, huddled up by the snack machines.
    And then Mathilde looks around her. And she thinks that all these people, every last one of them, one day or another will be sitting here, or somewhere like it, unable to move. The day they collapse.

He’d gone down to the metro to respond to a panic attack at Charonne station. The fire brigade had passed on the call to his base; they were swamped because of a big fire in the area. Rose put out a general call. Thibault was a few streets away, so he stopped

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