I had done the journey roughly nine hundred times since I got the job at Waterloo. Almost the entire length of the Bakerloo Line from Harrow & Wealdstone and time enough to immerse myself in my reading.
I was barely aware of the train filling with people as it neared central London, like a bottle pressed into a bowl of water, bubbles escaping to the surface as a few lucky passengers exited at an early stop. Then came Baker Street, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly, and more people squeezed into my carriage; always third from the front of the train, for a swift exit at Waterloo.
In central London, the tide of commuters rushed in and out more erratically, unfortunate tourists swept up among them—changing trains in bafflement, gazing at the coloured pipework of the London Underground map writ far too small.
These days, the tube was much busier, but it held no problem for me despite what happened thirty years earlier. I was glad people couldn’t smoke anymore and I was glad the escalators were now shiny metal, not tarnished wood.
I thought little of the fire. I’d almost forgotten that people could see it when they noticed the uneven skin on my face; the part where no hair grew, where I didn’t need to shave. Occasionally people would stare and the memories would flood back, threatening to engulf me until I was able to breathe again. But that didn’t happen often now.
Then, one day I was on the escalator and it took me right back to King’s Cross. Not literally, of course; I was heading for the Bakerloo Line as usual when I saw her.
It isn’t that I never forget a face—I do, all the time—and I had forgotten this one too until I saw her on the escalator. A kind face. A brave face. Older, thirty years older, but still unmistakeable. It was the face of someone who had been on the same journey as me.
It was the face of the woman who saved me.