There are more people waiting on the platform than I had expected. The 7:54 is delayed to 8:15 and a number of people take the slower train. Before the pandemic this would have been uncommon. Experienced commuters would know to wait for a delayed faster service.
The delay is due to a shortage of train crew says the announcer. A familiar face walks by, a well kept mop of grey hair on a tall man, I remember standing next to him in 2019 at the far end of the platform for a chance to get a seat at the very front of the train for a faster jump out at the other end. He wears a mask lopsidedly, drooping down towards his chin on the right, and he carries a coffee that he might have just bought at the station shop.
The British Rail Class 387/1 comes into the station. It is gloriously empty, like a first class compartment all the way through. My bike goes into the lower part of the luggage rack.
On its way out of the station the carriage shudders as the wheels gain traction.
I sit at a table on my own facing backwards. A woman in the next row draped in a bright yellow scarf reads Hamnet and wears a well fitted medical mask, the straps twisted once for a tighter fit to the ear.
We pull into Letchworth and I feel a hint of trepidation. Will anyone try to sit at my table? About ten people enter and zoom to empty seats. One newly entered passenger decides to sit on the floor in spite of all the space. He blows his nose heavily, he is quite close to me. Should I move? I move to the window side of the seat.
Bales of hay lie on short cropped yellow fields.
A signal light glows yellow facing a driver who may soon lead a train in the opposite direction to ours.
The driver leaves his cabin. The lights are off, the cabin is dark.
A falconer walks by on the platform, calmly with his bird. He wears a high-vis vest. The bird begins to flutter as the falconer walks, sensing pigeons, perhaps.
The train is fuller now. I walk along the length of the train seeking emptiness. All rows and tables are at least partially occupied. Most passengers have reserved the seat next to them with a bag.
I choose a table of mask wearers. Is there a new etiquette of asking for permission to sit next to someone? I ask and a bag moves.
Most people wear medical masks, rectangles of blue.
A couple joins. They are unmasked. Do they fit a stereotype of people who don’t wear masks? She carries a Louis Vuitton bag. Her mask is below her chin, and has a leopard spot design. Black leather skirt. Dark fingernails. Overcoat with a fur lining. He has noise cancelling headphones, brown polished leather shoes, Ray-Bans tucked into his pocket, a blue and white striped shirt is visible under his scarf.
The lady next to the Ray-Ban man looks out of the window pensively with her chin resting on her hand. Her sandy hair has turned grey, she wears a comfortable looking blue jumper and a thin wristwatch.
The sun shines through the dusty, dirty window as we arrive into the station. The Ray-Ban man packs his headphones away.
The leopard mask lady coughs. Her mask is up in position. She goes through the notifications on her phone. It looks like there are thousands of them.
The man opposite me puts away his book called Acceptance. He reserves his place with a bookmark. The frown he wore while reading has unfurled. A beard appears from his mask.
Ray-Ban man and leopard mask lady re-appear outside. He begins to vape as soon as he can, she clicks on long heels.