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Katerina Zacharopoulou: 'I am in an underground car'

Published on 5th December 2019

I am in an underground car.

I know that the first sentence in every story presupposes a past. In this case my identity, all the general information about myself and my background, but also more specific information, such as to which line this car belongs, if I‘m sitting or standing, where I’m going and where I’m coming from, what time it is. I won’t talk about any of these presuppositions. Not because they don’t matter, but because I don’t have any clue about them. I am just the protagonist of a story and I have every right to be in an underground car without knowing anything else about it.

I am in an underground car. The car is moving, on this verge between two stops. In the windows I can see my reflection and the reflection of everything inside the car (don’t ask me what is inside the car; I don’t know). Outside there is only darkness, interrupted now and then by a strong light, so strong that its result is the same as the darkness; I can’t see anything. But I can hear. I can hear the noise of the car’s movement, at times extremely loud, at times just very loud. I become aware of being under the ground. Under-ground. Underground. The darkness and the noises scare me. The underground scares me.

The car is still moving, on this verge between two stops. I am trying to hold on to something, find a periodicity in the lights or the noises, to make this anxiously indeterminable span between two stable things, two stations, go away quicker, or, at least, become more tolerable. I don’t achieve anything. I don’t notice even the slightest lowering of speed, the hint of an arrival at a station. I don’t know how long this will last, but I know that at some point it will end, just like a story does, because a train starts from somewhere and arrives somewhere, that’s why it exists, and if I told anyone I believed that this transitory state wouldn’t finish then I would for sure be suggested a visit to some madhouse. But I still don’t know when it will finish, and the longer it continues, the longer the time that it hasn’t finished yet gets. Just as grains of sand fall when an hourglass is turned over and form a pile out of nothing, with every second that passes, with every grain that falls, the mad suspicion that this will never stop slowly becomes a not at all unreasonable doubt.

I am just the protagonist of a story, and I have every right to be in an underground car without knowing anything else about it. What if the car never stops?

Katerina Zacharopoulou is a PhD student at the Bartlett, UCL, researching the potential of architecture to be funny. Despite living in London for three years now, she still can't get used to the underground.