‘And don’t forget to hand this in on monday.’ The woman said, as she added another folder onto the already considerable pile in my arms. She stared at me with her round, watery eyes. I nodded meekly, crouched down to retrieve a plastic bag from under my desk. In it, I fished for my phone with scrabbling fingers and pressed the hold button on top. ‘18.37’ the screen told me. ’24th of December’ it said.

I tottered out of the office, skidded round the corner and stumbled down the stairs on my way to the subway platform. That morning, a dense mist had settled on the streets, muffling sounds of cars and pedestrians and reducing everything to varying shades of gray. A knot formed in my stomach as my eyes slid from the cigaret strewn concrete of the platform to the overweight woman next to a vending machine, her bull-dog staring at me with bulging, milky eyes, and then to the mound of work pulling on the muscles of my arms as I struggled to keep it together.

As the train rattled into sight, a rat appeared from under an overflowing garbage bag and jumped onto the rail tracks. I felt like following it. The doors opened with a beep and a gush of warm air, people started queuing to get in. As I tried to ascend the steps, I bumped into someone. I turned round to apologise and stood eye to eye with a scruffy old man. He was wearing a brown wool jumper and patched up painters pants, with half-gloves and baby blue earmuffs. His wispy white hair made his head look blurry, as if clouds were floating around it. He had a scraggly beard, lines creasing his forehead.  His eyes were of a light, ageless green, glowing with a deep peaceful happiness and glinting openly with mischief. He was smiling and made a gesture as if to say ‘ Go ahead’. I grinned, entered and settled into a seat at the back of the compartment, taking out my work.

After a few seconds of comfortable jostling, I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard odd guttural sounds coming from the same general direction the hand seemed to be attached to. I twisted around to see the same old mans smiling face. He was obviously speaking, though what about was hard to make out. Finally I switched on my brain and go some sense into his words. ‘Can I sit here?’ he repeated patiently. His voice was strangely constricted, swollen, warped. I nodded, shifted on my seat and started blankly staring at my sheets.

Two stops later, a small oriental looking couple sat down opposite me, their son next to the old man. The boy was unwrapping a lollipop, cooing, his eyes gleaming. When he finally managed to rip off his paper, he looked around confusedly, holding the sticky wrappings in his small, pudgy hand. His mother was looking at him sternly. I averted my eyes and started ripping at the skin around my fingernails with my teeth. I was looking at the letters on my paper. They where soaring and dancing whilst my heart convulsed painfully and my eyes pricked uncomfortably. The old man placed his hand on my shoulder, pointing at the small waste-bin underneath the window and handing me the sticky mess of  sweet wrappings. He ruffled the boy’s hair, whose parents were now pointedly staring in any direction but our three seats. I suppressed a grin and put down my thumb, which I had been nibbling on. Then the old man pulled out some wrapped chocolates. He offered me one, saying: ‘My name is Joseph. Want some?’ His tongue seemed to have difficulties wrapping itself around the words, producing an outlandish sound. All the while his eyes were smiling, brightening his features. I accepted the treat. ‘Where are you from then?’ I asked. He stared at my lips for a while, seemingly contemplating the question. Then he said: ‘I’m deaf.’ I blushed and he handed me another chocolate.

At the next stop, both the old man and I got up. ‘Your stop too?’ he asked. ‘ You look like you could use some fresh air. Fancy a walk in the park?’  I hesitated, concentrating on the rash on my arm for a second. ‘Sure’, I said. My mouth was dry.

We left the train with many other passengers, all rustling and bustling to get to the fresh air. As I stepped off the subway, the bulldog from the former platform weaseled through my legs, its leash trailing in its wake. A bloated figure came wobbling past, huffing and calling the dog’s name. The dog looked back, stared at me and then its gasping owner. It turned slowly, stared trotting, running and then going full pelt, the clickiticlick of its nails on the concrete ringing in my ears. I stepped aside, waiting for my new friend. We went to a park in the vicinity, where Joseph conjured up a teaflask from somewhere, along with two cups and a sucramid expensor. I welcomed the heat on my numb fingers when he poured me some. I mixed in the small sugar pill and took a sip. The smell of cinnamon and ground cloves filled my nostrils.

There were a few carolers standing beside a glowing christmas tree. We stood and listened. It was a beautiful, eerie song, the soprano soaring out of the sea of voices only to linger for a moment until rejoining the others. The sound washed over me and licked at my heart.

After what seemed a millenia, I awoke from my stupor and tossed the singers a few coins. I bid my new friend goodnight and started walking to my flat. Joseph had his eyes on my back, I knew.

Whilst walking, I felt the silky skin of my hands, caressing my own fingers. I felt the roughness of the air, which was so cold, the insides of my airways felt numb and hot. I felt the prickling sensation on my cheeks against the arctic temperatures. I saw vibrance of strange light formations in the mist as the sun sank towards a horizon of red brick buildings.

And then, just like when you decide a zebra is black with white stripes instead of vice versa, my sight shifted. I saw everything black in the settling darkness. I saw the many facets of  black, its many textures, light and colour being a  mere side effect. I saw the way it consumed everything. I felt so lonely, a deep, cold tiredness coursing through my veins. This experience was a last deep fall, and I started panicking, my heart hammering and throbbing. As I approached my door, I saw someone had sprayed my neighbours wall. The picture was that of a soldier, holding up his gun to shoot and saying  ‘Jesus loves me’. I frowned at his determination, my lips twitching.

It was only when I had crossed my own threshold when I noticed the missing plastic bag and documents. I shrugged out of my coat, and let it drop to the floor. I got out of my shoes. With every step, I took off a piece of clothing. I padded into my bathroom, shivering. The window was a sheet of silver, the moon reflected a thousand times in the ruffed up glass. The mist seemed to have vanished. I struck a match and lit a candle, not bothering to switch on the lights. Then I got into the bathtub, feeling the hot water flowing over my waned body. The water droplets sparkled like a million diamonds, my skin glowed like molten rock in the candle light. I gave a delighted giggle, then sank below the water surface with a weak smile.