The Train Judders and Jolts

Words and photos by Achille Filipponi

“Ten minutes on the underground, a compendium of small bodily features, the paradigm of much else in Hong Kong.”

The train judders and jolts, quavering like the fuselage of an aeroplane in flight, and there, before me, a sleepy, harmless army, open to all judgement. When you go down into the Hong Kong underground you’re assaulted by faces, a selection of shiny masks lit by the median glow of neon. Under the harsh light, even those unversed in these features can observe the small variations in the degrees of a possible beauty. These details stand out a lot and well, since it’s as if all the faces were moulded by some type of heat. For example, one might say that eyelids are almost inexistent, they only lower like a rubber screen when the eye is closed, otherwise they disappear into place behind a gaze that sadly fixates something which only the mind can see: because what I see here is a considered sight, the eyes never observe what they’re pointing at, they’re totally calm but engrossed in thought. The cheekbones also exist in the form of a shiny bulb, a round and perfect mass. They’re the confirmation that here smiles aren’t the creator of wrinkles, marks, lines recording the event, but a force that moves masses of flesh, like stones smoothed by a river which flows calmly on their faces.

In such a clear, sculptural situation, you can understand how even the slightest imperfection, for example eyes too close to a nose, or a shorter neck, become a sort of tragedy. And each of these possible discords, every little screech of physiognomic imperfection, is a loaded weapon, a detonator that can release a force of analysis. The face is a plump, taut element, and the eyes, almost always as dark as can be and with an unfathomable pupil, live in a lacquered whiteness, moving like those of a bounding puppy. In other cases, though, they rise up towards mine, almost in slow motion, tired, swathed in caramel, mixed with tiny veins that make them look dull, musty, as if in mourning. The smallest of sneezes upsets a face, making it look as if it had been crying and it could do with a washbasin right here in the carriage to put things back in place. 

All of the faces seem hardly to have changed since birth, they’ve got something newborn about them. Looking at them, they always seem to be in the five-year window of their peak, or, in the worst of cases, some undefinable age. Their movements are minimal, they all seem infused with an intent, all with the same one – though we don’t know which – this mysterious and everyday purpose that makes them concentrate, immobilizes them in what seems to be an energy-saving operation.

At every bend on the underground their heads sway and their bodies move, up and down like the bows in an orchestra, synchronized like a shoal of fish. It could be defined as unity, but it isn’t. Even though the carriage shakes them all together, brutally even, they remain drowned, hopelessly restricted in what they can do: it’s like an assembly line of thought, a temporary cessation of the intellect, with an activity going on invisibly underneath, leading to a catatonic state of untouchable, unmoving concentration. The forehead is the totem of this mental superstructure, an immobile rock, unaware of all moods; it is the flag of each of these faces, which never seem to wither, apparently modelled by years of sleep. All at once, the heads float chaotically yet harmoniously like foam in a sweet-scented washbasin.

Some ran to get on at the last stop, among them a woman. Someone bumps into her, she remains immobile. Outside it must have started to rain, her wet hair is shiny and short, a crown melted onto her skull which goes downwards and plants itself onto her slender neck like an overturned capital encased in the finish of a raincoat. A type of energy spreads out across the scene like oxygen, it expands slowly and gains ground like a stain of dark water on a fabric. A vision, a true vision, a single sacred form of continuing beauty with no hold on reality. The dark eyes are absolute, with a few drops of water stretched and quivering on her eyelashes.
I dream I see her cry so I can caress the concave bed of her temple with my knuckles. Here, on her cheekbone next to her ear, the black hair terminates in a dripping wet, crescent-shaped wisp whose tip, characteristically, leads to nothing below, following the cheek’s perfect, downward slope.

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