The day started with a little more stimulation then I was used to. For once I was lucky enough to get a seat in the crowded rail carriage, a chance to sit down, claim my own space among the heaving mass of humanity. I settled in for the journey, my document bag clasped firmly on my lap, demure and calm. I set my expression to secure isolation and resolved to make no eye contact. A daily mantra.
Then, at the very next stop, a flock of new travellers flooded in to the carriage. I ignored them except to pull in my toes a little, partially making room, partially in a vague attempt at self-protection.
But I couldn’t ignore the movement.
The train set off, a long way now until the next stop, under the rivers and the dead zone, into the long tunnels black as night and narrow fitting. A highly charged worm. The battered carriage rocked from side to side as it rumbled along the poorly maintained rails but that was not the movement that caught my attention. The rocking of the carriage I found soothing, a gentle lullaby of action, rhythmic meditation for a tired mind.
In front of me however, right at my eye level, a young man was rocking his hips in time with the music he had plugged into his ears. I could hear the faint buzz of electricity. His crotch was jerking back and forwards with an occasional wiggle. This was distracting.
Surreptitiously I glanced up at the man’s face. With eyes half closed he was smiling, lost in his own world.
I envied him his youth, returning my watery eyes to the vision of my wrinkled aging hands as they lay forlornly on the document case. I envied his obvious relaxation, a striking counterpoint to my efforts to portray the appearance of calm. I envied his joy in his music.
My watch beeped and I knew that I was close to my station. Getting a grip on my case, and on my wandering mind, I got ready. When the time came I stood up, trying not to bump into the oblivious boy, and blinked.
The short jump to the station, with the train still rattling at top speed through the dimmed tunnel, was always disconcerting. This time I felt like I had left something behind and I wobbled on the balls of my highly polished shoes.
‘Morning.’ Harry Short had been on the same train. He greeted me now with an expression of inattentive curiosity on his grey and whiskered face.
‘Morning.’ I pulled myself together and turned towards the lift, putting the shiver that ran down my back to the windy absence created by the now departed train.
I recognise now that the real reason for my lack of mental balance that morning was enclosed in the faux leather wrapping of my document case…