Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.
― Paul Theroux
I’ve been getting a lot of grief lately about my refusal to get my driver’s licence. The reasons I usually give people are: parking, fuel prices and my reluctance to fight with my dad over the car. Let’s be honest. If I could afford a car, which I can’t, I wouldn’t be able to afford parking space. And I’m enjoying the novelty of having nothing to fight with my dad about too much. I’m not going to start battles over when&why I’d need to use his car.
The real reason I am not getting my licence is much simpler: I don’t want to.
I love public transport. I love it in a way that makes me tingly+excited+sweatypalmed. A friend once laughed and said, “that sounds like lust, not love.” Perhaps. But I doubt lust would span years the way my relationship with public transport has.
I love the freedom of public transport. The thoughtlessness of it all. If I feel like going out to meet a someone for some inexplicable drunken reason at some random hour, I can. I have that choice. I can grab my phone and wallet and go. I don’t have to think like my Significant Other, “if I’m taking the car out, I have to be home by 9pm, or I’ll have to spend an hour looking for parking.” I don’t have to think like a lot of my car-owning friends, “I don’t know why I bothered coming out, because it’s no fun watching everyone having shots and drunk-dancing barefoot, while I look depressed and responsible as I twirl my car keys in my hand.” My plans have a random spontaneity that is not tainted with the responsibilities of driving.
My driving friends, the Significant Other included, think I’m insane. They wax poetic on the joy of driving on empty roads, the radio blaring; a scene straight out of a cliched road trip movie. They barrage me with, “you have no idea what it feels like…” Perhaps I don’t.
But do they know what it feels like? The feeling of standing at the door of a moving train, the wind whipping your face and hair, feeling limitless? Do they know how many ideas have walked into my head while taking trains and buses? Do they know I once did a series of stories on peoples lives being altered by buskers on the Tube? Do they know that my characters have personalities, my fictional lives have souls because of the strangers I’ve met day after day?
Do they know how wonderful it is to stand in the 7:18am fast train to Churchgate, shoulder to shoulder to a woman? Looking at her from the corner of my eye and thinking: I wonder what you look like to someone who loves you. Does your mother, your husband, your daughter see the strands of gray hair, the puffy eyes with already-smudged eyeliner, the faded kurta with the crooked seam? Or do they only see the tilt of your pointed chin, the glint of your nosepin, the strength of your arms, and your smile – so alive and awake at a time when you have every right to be cranky?
I wonder if you know – that when you held your arms against me to protect me from being jostled by hoards of women entering the compartment, your gesture would stay with me. I’d keep it with me the whole day, to warm me like a pleasant surprise. You’d be like finding a sample paper strip of perfume tucked in my bag; a shock of citrus and floral notes. You would become a character in a story I would write, a story I have already written in my head.
You, and everything you represent, would be the reason, the inexplicable logic behind why I love public transport. You, and fellow passengers the world over, bound by the loyalty of trains&buses&subways&tubes would be the reason I live in cities where public transport is a living breathing tangible thing.
You, and the everything you represent, are the reasons I don’t want to drive.