It was the jaffa cake on the escalator that first alerted me. Escalators should always be cake-free, and indeed object-free, given their repeated circuitous motion. This, then, was a freshly-dropped jaffa cake, sitting chocolate side up on the metal slats. I wondered briefly, as I stepped carefully past, whether it might survive to the bottom intact or whether some other passing footstep would squelch the orange-y bit completely flat. More importantly, however, I wondered how the jaffa cake might have appeared here in the first place.
And then I hit the milk. One moment I was striding confidently down the escalator, holding onto the rubber rail in line with current safety guidelines, and the next my left hand was covered with white sticky white dampness. Yeee-ugh. The slimy trail continued for a few more unpleasant centimetres, and then I pulled my fingers away to walk on unsupported.
That looked like the spillage culprit a few steps below. A man with lank mousey hair and a thick blue jacket, clutching something edible tightly in front of him and lumbering unsteadily downwards. Not the best place for a fast food meal, I thought. He reached the foot of the escalator before me, wobbling unsteadily, and headed off towards his train. I spotted the telltale upturned blue lid of a milk carton on the lowest step as I alighted behind.
Oh great, I was walking behind a ravenous passenger intent on scattering his remnant leftovers anywhere and everywhere. I sped up, attempting to overtake him along the passageway to the platform. As I passed I noticed the unmistakable whiff of ingrained filth erupting from his unwashed torso. This was the kind of man who'd reek even in the middle of winter, but on the hottest day of the summer his fetid aura was all-pervasive. All this plus a little extra dab of milk. I walked a little faster to reach the uncontaminated air ahead.
I made sure I stopped just far enough up the platform to be safe, and looked back to watch my pasteurised nemesis shuffle to a halt. He made for the one remaining seat on a bench of four and settled back to finish off his meal. Alcohol might now be banned on the tube, but there are no such regulations against cow juice and cake. I noted the man's thin feral face, revealing rather too much cheekbone, as he stuffed down yet another jaffa from his plastic stack.
Two smart young ladies, who'd previously been enjoying their chat unmolested, looked briefly at one another and rose silently to evacuate their endangered resting place. Ignorant of being shunned so politely, the stooped diner munched on. With the next train now rumbling in the distance, an elderly couple then took the opportunity to rest awhile on the newly vacated seats. They didn't last long, but still probably several distasteful seconds longer than they'd have liked.
As the doors opened, the source of all our discomfort remained resolutely still, fiddling in his bag and gulping down a few more milky mouthfuls. I thought travellers to Hainault (via Newbury Park) might be safe from the inescapable discomfort of radiating body stench in a confined space, but no. At the last second the hungry hunchback arose, spilling more white liquid, and lumbered purposefully into the train.
By now I was, thankfully, safely tucked away in the carriage nextdoor. But my thoughts were with the nasally-assaulted passengers through the connecting door, doomed to travel in stinking jaffa cake hell. Commuting can be so wonderfully random sometimes, but random is not always wonderful.