Uit: The Swimming Pool Library
„I came home on the last train. Opposite me sat a couple of London Transport maintenance men, one small, fifty, decrepit, the other a severely handsome black of about thirty-five. Heavy canvas bags were tilted against their boots, their overalls open above their vests in the stale heat of the Underground. They were about to start work! I looked at them with a kind of swimming, drunken wonder, amazed at the thought of their inverted lives, of how their occupation depended on our travel, but could only be pursued, I saw it now, when we were not traveling. As we went home and sank into unconsciousness gangs of these men, with lamps and blow-lamps, and long-handled ratchet spanners, moved out along the tunnels; and wagons, not made to carry passengers, freakishly functional, rolled slowly and clangorously forwards from sidings unknown to the commuter. Such lonely, invisible work must bring on strange thoughts; the men who walked through every tunnel of the labyrinth, tapping the rails, must feel such reassurance seeing the lights of others at last approaching, voices calling out their friendly, technical patter. The black was looking at his loosely cupped hands: he was very aloof, composed, with an air of massive, scarcely conscious competence – I felt more than respect, a kind of tenderness for him. I imagined his relief at getting home and taking his boots off and going to bed as the day brightened around the curtains and the noise of the streets built up outside. He turned his hands over and I saw the pale gold band of his wedding-ring.
All the gates but one at the station were closed and I, with two or three others, scuttled out as if being granted an unusual concession. Then there were the ten minutes to walk home. The drink made it seem closer, so that next day I would not remember the walk at all. And the idea of Arthur, too, which I had suppressed to make it all the more exciting when I recalled it, must have driven me along at quite a lick.
I was getting a taste for black names, West Indian names; they were a kind of time-travel, the words people whispered to their pillows, doodled on their copy-book margins, cried out in passion when my grandfather was young. I used to think these Edwardian names were the denial of romance: Archibald, Ernest, Lionel, Hubert were laughably stolid; they bespoke personalities unflecked by sex or malice.“
Alan Hollinghurst (Stoud, 26 mei 1954)