I place myself at the front of the train. I was last on among seven people congregated in anticipation of a particular pair of doors. A bulky man wearing a blue and white horizontally striped shirt and a blue and pink diagonally striped tie moves his feet to the side towards the aisle so that I can pass and sit down. There is plenty of space. He is wearing an old Barbour jacket over his shirt and tie. He holds his phone out in front of him within his folded hands.
The man opposite me has a shiny forehead and a pink tie with five diagonal white and black stripes. His getup looks expensive and new. But above his waist the shirt isn’t tucked in and the shirt folds outwards between the buttons making it all look wrinkled and diminishing the appearance. He has a cup of AMT coffee waiting for him on the table and for a while he had the receipt for it on his lap and it looked like he was entering the expense on his phone. The first thing I noticed though was a copy of the “Aesthetic Surgery Journal” on his lap. It’s a 50-year anniversary addition.
So is this what a plastic surgeon looks like? His face is normally creased and he has a slight irritation or blemish above his lip on the right. So he would appear to be one of those craftsman who do not indulge in the craft on themselves. On the other hand his lips look a bit puffy… Has he had himself touched up a bit after all? A bit of botox?
He takes a shiny MacBook Air out of his shiny plain black briefcase and it looks like he’ll be absorbed in it for the remainder of the journey.
The man next to me has woken up and has taken up a round of “Killer SuDoku No 5391 Tough” on his cartridge.
The last impressions on the train: the colour of the coffee cup is the same as the colour of the aesthetic surgery journal. He wraps the coffee cup into the journal. Not very aesthetic.
On the way out of the train station I breathe and relax and walk slowly and suddenly I feel that I’ve lost my phone. I search my briefcase and rifle through all the pockets, it’s gone. I run back to the train. Is this the one? I didn’t pay attention to the platform we arrived on. An attendant comes by talking on the phone. “I think I’ve lost my phone on this train,” I say. She opens the door from the outside with a special key and I search for my phone around the area that I occupied. Nothing. The attendant comes in to help. She has a walkie-talkie and uses it to ask a colleague whether a phone has been lost and found. “Negative,” is the reply through the static. I wonder how secure my four-digit iphone passcode is. All my notes are on here.
The lady says I could talk to the supervisor on Platform 9. I make my way towards the other side of the station. A quarter of the way there I realise that my phone is in my jacket’s front pocket. I put it there before dozing off on the train and watching the sunlight dance through my closed eyelids, with varying patterns depending on whether the sun was blocked by trees or buildings or shining through the glass directly. I laugh to myself.
After exiting the station and crossing the road I notice a woman walking towards me. I look into her bright eyes. “Please” she says. Her upper arms are tense against her upper body and she is gesticulating with her lower arms. She is blonde and her bright eyes are green. I smile and shake my head slightly as I walk by to indicate that I will not give her anything and already feel ashamed of myself. Why not stop and ask “how can I help you?” Am I not trying or trying not to try? Another recent incident comes to mind: a man on a bike in Cambridge asked for funds to buy new guitar strings. If he asks again, I’ll engage.
It has been an eventful morning and I turn in to Origin for their “batch brew.” The young barista is usually reserved and serious but going for a black batch brew rather than a milk and coffee product gains me a lot of points. “How was your easter-weekend,” he asks: “Good,” I say, “and yours?” “Good,” he says. I follow up: “I realised how I was trying not to try.” “Sorry?” He hasn’t understood me. I repeat and add: “sometimes it takes a break to return to a natural life.” It’s hard to respond to that, the conversation is dead and I leave.
The train is full and people are beginning to give up and stand by the doors. It’s always worth walking through anyway: it’s strange, but sometimes inside seats are overlooked. Perhaps people begin to make assumptions when there is a person with a stubbornly empty seat next them. Perhaps people think there’s something wrong: this person must smell of sweat or make noises. I do find an inside seat and the man on the outside does look unfriendly. A worn vaping device lies on the drop-down table. He makes room gruffly and I sit down. He is taking up a lot of room and I can’t lean back without dislodging his shoulders, so I don’t. There’s no need to insist on one’s space, he was there first. He seems to fall asleep but when I glance over to look at him his eyelids lift and he eyes me back. The reptilian glance says: I tolerate you but am evaluating my position continuously.
Later he gets up about two minutes before we get in to the station and I follow. He has a grey-white beard and his head is shaven. His patent leather black shoes are very creased, he slouches. The skin on his neck is reddened.
The sparkle of the Thames, a catamaran, a trickle of people over Millenium bridge, a crane, glints of blinding reflected light. A woman asks: “is this going to Denmark Hill?” in an accent that could be Danish. “I don’t think so,” I say. “Shit,” she says and gets off just in time.
A young man next to me was eating a Pret sandwich. I sat down next to him, one of the last spaces. Then a tall man sits down opposite and it is suddenly very crowded. The man next to me says: “sorry, I should have finished this earlier,” perhaps referring to the fact that it’s difficult to finish a sandwich now that it’s so crowded without spilling it on me or perhaps referring to the food smell (I can’t detect one). He takes out a notebook and begins to write intently. Is it a diary or a novel to-be? I catch a glimpse of a short paragraph: “She was very emotional to the point of tears. I had expected tears. There was pain but not tears.”