Under Ground

Lost underground, the girl sat alone and forlorn and waited for someone to find her. She’d been down in the tunnels all morning as well as half the afternoon already, and still, she was lost. It was a disconcerting feeling, and the girl didn’t like it at all. There were strange noises that came from all over, such as the bubbling of far and unseen geysers and the crunching of earth within itself as people moved around above and below. These sounds unsettled her, especially as they were the sounds of home to her and she’d never before found them frightening. Something familiar turning into a threat is one of the scariest things a person can go through.

The girl hugged a lumpy cloth doll closer to her. It was in the guise of a mole, and the girl had named it, for inexplicable reasons, Piggy. She looked into Piggy’s glass eyes and wondered whether he would come to life and speak to her. Maybe he’d be able to show her the way back to her cave. But he remained a doll, stuffed and mute, and she hugged him close again for comfort.

She looked again at the time telling device that hung on her neck. It was an hourglass, with a very tiny hole in it. Every morning, her mother would reach into the neck of her nightshirt and pull out the hourglass, and she’d turn it over. She told her daughter that if she didn’t lie down all day but stayed up and working like the good girl she was, she’d always be able to tell time, because of the tiny notches, painted red, that told her how many hours had passed since dawn. In their underground existence, night and day were mere formalities, but they kept everyone sane and working, the rhythm helping them.

The girl brought the glass closer and peered in the poor light at the notches. It was now twelve hours past dawn, and she’d been lost for most of those. She felt panic rising in her again and debated beginning to scream again. But the last time she’d done that, the earth had shifted and some crumbs of dirt had fallen onto her from the ceiling. She knew about cave-ins, of course, and the spill at deterred her from trying to call out too loudly again.

To pass the time and suppress her panic, she began a counting game that she’d begun teaching her little sister. She made Piggy jump up and down along with her whispered rhymes, and tried to invent more of the song when she ran out of numbers. When she grew weary of this game, she began to stretch her legs and walked up and down the empty corridor she was in. She tried, for the umpteenth time, to remember how she’d gotten here, but she was almost sure that she had at least one mistake in her visual memory of the way, and she knew, as she’d been taught since infancy, that one wrong turn could mean falling to your death or losing your way and going so deep into the earth that no one would ever find you. That was why she’d stayed where she was when she discovered she was in an unfamiliar corridor.

She wondered when her parents would come looking for her. She hoped it would be before suppertime. She thought of her little sister, eating at the large square table without her, and of her parents, whispering urgently to each other in the corner of the room. She imagined them going to the Chief and asking for more people to help the search. She tried to envision who it was who would find her, and she hoped fervently that it would be the Chief’s fifteen-year old son. The thought of his dark skin and red lips made her blush in a way that was still quite new to her. But it was as her parents always said – even Under Ground, life goes on. She hoped her life would go on with that boy in it.

The girl chastised herself suddenly for thinking of such things. There was no excuse for thinking of a boy when she was lost without food or water. She had her whistle with her, at least, but she wasn’t going to resort to it until she heard a search party nearby. The risk of the ceiling falling in on her was too great for using the whistle if she wasn’t absolutely sure she’d be heard.

Tired of the roundabout route her mind was taking, the girl sat back down, across from where she’d set a groove in the ground already, and began to listen to the sounds around her again.

 

A Mad Woman in Berlin

She leaned over the back to back metal benches and asked the pair of English tourists if they smoked tobacco. Her accent was thick, sometimes sounding German, and at others Russian, although her English was good. The man, glancing uneasily at his partner, answered that he did. When the woman asked if she could have some, he looked confused for a moment. His partner told the woman that they only had cigarettes. The woman nodded eagerly, and asked if she could have one. The man smiled politely and produced a pack of Camels. The woman asked for a light, and the man leaned over toward her and lit her cigarette, which she sucked on greedily. He then turned to his partner, and they both spoke for a while in another language.

The mad woman didn’t quite fit the stereotype of a homeless person, living on the streets. Her hair was a shock of grayish-brown and her skin looked almost healthy. She was somewhere between forty and fifty, but wore the age well on her face, which was elegantly lined, although her cheeks were still full and youthful. Her clothing was oddly fancy, or at least the top half was. She wore what looked like a light brown leather jacket and her handbag was of similar material and color. The mere fact that she had a handbag was strange. Her skinny legs were wrapped in tight pants in shades of brown, olive and black, like a military uniform made into fashionable jeans. The mix between the pants and the well-kept leather jacket were perhaps an indication of her madness. Still, she could have been an eccentric fashionista and nothing more.

Except, that is, for the fact that she was talking to herself loudly and was holding a pink carton of cheap wine.

“It is security, you see. I don’t trust a man, and security is inside me. You have to stay inside the clothes, inside the pants. The pants are protection, they protect me. But I am an attractive woman. If another man come near I go away. But if another woman approach me,” and here she sounded a little defensive, “then that is okay, I mean I am an attractive woman. A woman can look at a woman and appreciate her and I don’t mind if a woman looks at me.” She took a drink from her pink bottle, and the smell of wine washed over the English tourists as well as the others on the platform. Just then, the train arrive, and everyone boarded, including the mad woman.

She sat across from the English couple and fell silent for a time. When a fat man with a tiny dog boarded at the next station and sat next to her, she got up at once and moved into the narrow space between the Englishwoman and a bearded businessman. She started talking again. “It is like the jackets, do you know the jackets in London?” she turned to the businessman. It wasn’t clear whether he ignored her or nodded for she kept speaking almost at once. “There are nice jackets in London, long coats. Every person should have them, they are made of good fabric, of, what is it called… Not wool, it’s not wool. It’s not like the jeans. There are jeans that are made of denim, and they are the color of – the color of indigo. How do you say indigo in German?” she turned to the Englishwoman.

“I don’t speak German, I’m sorry,” the tourist said, shrugging and smiling, but drawing closer to her companion so as not to brush the woman’s jacket.

“That’s right, you’re not from here,” the mad woman dismissed her at once and continued speaking of fabrics and jackets in America as opposed to those in London. She got off at the next stop, still speaking to herself in a loud, coherent voice, as if she were having a conversation with someone else. The English tourists probably never saw her again, but there was no way they would forget this strange and lonely woman who chose them as smoking- and seat-companions on a short journey on the U-Bahn in Berlin.