Rumour

DBC Pierre's latest novel is Ludmila's Broken English, published by Faber and Faber in 2006.

Dear fellow passenger

Rumours spoke of a sandwich. They said it was egg and cress.

Strangely, as the rumours flickered through the crowd, I didn't immediately covet the sandwich. Rather I tasted fleeting violence towards that type of person who lingers for an eternity browsing the sandwich cabinets in shops, picking up one after another sandwich lest the tomato in one has soaked into the bread, lest the chicken in another be dry. Standing uselessly, blocking the sandwich you want to take. In a reasonable world the sandwich-blocker might be a minor irritation. But I felt harder violence towards this type of character.

Because I was one.

I wanted them to piss off so I could browse myself.

And that, I thought, is our day in a nutshell: irritation turned to violence, towards others in whom irritation has turned to violence.

This is the type of person I'm down here with. Others like myself, only lesser types because they have the arrogance to imagine themselves better, unlike me. Who merely imagines them lesser.

Sandwich rumour: spread it.

I was interested to note how divided my instincts had become – between the impulse to trample bodies, and a God's-eye view of how the rumours spread. In the first thirty hours we survived on rumours alone. They were self-seeding and self-inflating. They started ambitiously, within the first hour, with the idea that huge ventilation fans had been installed at each end of the tunnel. Some even claimed to feel a breeze, and, as they said it, we fancied we could see the breeze visit their hair.

Bollocks.

And if there were an egg and cress sandwich down here you would smell it, and if eaten, you would smell the person who ate it. Though it might be in plastic packaging, still sealed. You could feel this cluster of concepts fizz through the tunnel behind the rumour, a thousand of us at once imagining a clean plastic triangle stuffed with sandwich, or certain Cool Britannia types picturing rustic cardboard, carbon-friendly, a recycled box explaining itself with misspelled street jargon, and inside, a sandwich of raffish chunks between flavoured olive oil bread from a company called Vuzu or Goozoo or Zazz.

The tunnel prickled like an anemone reef around the rumour.

Then came word of a mobile phone with both power and signal. The rumour flashed this way and that like a shoal of fish. Such is its nature. And if you really need whatever is rumoured, the shoal becomes a slashing blade, killing the real. Because the truth is - although the air would drip with offers of credit, jewellery, cash - any person identifying her- or himself as the holder a phone with signal, or an uneaten sandwich, would quickly be savaged.

Probably by children.

For myself, I cling to this morning's rumour: that Terminal One has been secured, and the army is freeing us one-by-one, after the appropriate security screening. I also say it because I could swear I'm a yard farther along this travellator, compared to yesterday.

Yesterday was cursing day. That prick politician. Probably sunning his arse somewhere grateful to see him. And those dickheads who think crashing a car into anything constitutes a threat to decadent culture. Wankers: that is decadent culture. Most of all I cursed those whom we've quickly taught: a) that the threat of collapse to a culture in collapse is no threat, and: b) that you don't need explosions to make us hysterical.

Just rumours.

Like the ones in the terminals either end of this tunnel.

Cursing alternated between ideological and existential all day. Existential was more painful. The bastard rail system without whose collapse I might have made it to King's Cross earlier. If the Strand hadn't been shut, if Trafalgar Square were open, if the sales weren't on, my cab might have made it before Person Under Heathrow Express. Which might have seen me in the last passenger intake for Terminal One.

And thence, conceivably, to an aeroplane.

It's not as if anyone had luggage to check. The hastily imposed luggage ban, and the government's new requirement that it be shipped from home, felt fine – until you realized they had dismantled the postal service that might ship it.

I look around the tunnel. A pile of shit down one end, a stench of sweat. Rumours of sandwiches. Bullish Americans, Angry French, four hundred Italian exchange students who started the stampede in the first place – not because the tube train wasn't there to board them, but because they couldn't understand the one working ticket machine.

And it's an offence to board without paying for a ticket.

At least the bastards haven't changed our way of life.

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