Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Balaclava

The Balaclava

In an empty carriage
on the eastbound
District Line service,
terminating at Upminster,

I found a
black balaclava
abandoned on the seat
next to mine.

It was embroidered
with a shield
bearing the St George Cross
and underneath
the initials of
The English Defence League.

And I felt the sweat
of the man who
had worn it
soaked into the wool,

and turned it partway-out
searching for a name tag
sewn on the inside,
but there was none.

And then, having
exhausted its possibilities,
I tossed it onto
the row of seats
opposite me.

But later I wondered about
its former owner:

Whether he was asked
to remove it by
London Underground staff
and sat there,
with his red face
bearing its
itchy after-image

Or if the heat
had become unbearable
and he had taken it off
voluntarily, surrendering
the identity he had
chosen for himself.

Though it isn't true,
I like to think that
somewhere along the line,
as the train rushed
out of the darkness
and into floodlit station,
the lurching of the carriage
jolted him from his tunnel vision.

He disengaged
his thousand yard stare
from the glowering
shade of his reflection
that haunted the
darkened glass opposite
and looked to his
left and to his right
at the students from New Delhi,
and the grandson of
Trinidadian immigrants,
and at the Muslim family
from Tower Hamlets
sitting alongside a
descendent of itinerant
Irish labourers,
and saw for the first time
a cross-section of London
being shuffled into the city

And he rode the escalator
out of that underworld
and emerged into the street
a less angry man.

~ Mark Sadler

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