Front carriage, 7.15am. So quiet before the rush. When we arrive at Edinburgh Waverley I’ll be the first one off the train and through the gates. So quick before the crush.
I take the second seat on the right, next to the window. More leg room than a table seat, but no ‘Priority’ sign for old people, wheelchairs and bastards. Headphones in, ambient pop soundtrack on. Back to sleep.
But no rest. Got to wait for the ticket guy. My eyes are closed but my other senses tingle. With each passing commuter they flick open and then slip shut again.
Angry happy man takes his seat ahead of me – so severe, but so happy when he meets someone he knows. Fat mole man moves to his end of the carriage – always relaxed, newspaper in hand. Skinny hair gel man sees someone sitting in his seat – moves away, eyes narrow. Normally he sleeps, but today he’ll read. He’s too annoyed now.
This is my commuter community, all in suits. No one would travel at this time unless they were wearing a suit. I spend five hours a week with these people. That’s why I’ve given them names.
The train begins to rumble. We’re moving. A girl appears. She looks left, at the man in the aisle seat, bag by the window. He’ll move if he’s asked, but for now he pretends he’s asleep. Not a regular. She looks at me. ‘Mind if I sit here?’ Horror. I recognise her from the day before. She sat beside me then as well.
‘Not at all,’ I say. I look back out the window.
‘Weren’t you sitting here yesterday?’ she asks.
A question. My headphones are in, I can pretend I haven’t heard. I look at her. ‘Yes.’ Headphones! I pull them out. ‘Sorry, yes I was.’
‘I didn’t mean to interrupt.’ She did. We both know she did.
‘You didn’t,’ I lie. ‘It’s fine.’ Angry happy man looks up. Angry? Not happy anyway. He wants to chat, and wishes the girl was sitting with him.
‘Do you always sit in the same seat?’ she asks.
‘When I can,’ I say, like some neurotic thunder twat.
The wider community have noticed the disruption. Their eyes are drifting towards us. Angry happy man is angry. Fat mole man is on edge. Skinny hair gel man has lowered his book. They know it’s not my fault, but they blame me nonetheless.
‘Why?’ she asks.
‘We all do,’ I say.
‘Who?’ she asks, spitting out staccato questions that mean I’ll never be able to sleep.
‘All of us, on this train. We have our seats.’
Skinny hair gel man looks horrified. I’ve revealed our secret, our unacknowledged truth. Tomorrow morning we’re all going to take a different train, or at least a different carriage. It’s the only way. The equilibrium is ruined.
‘Would you mind if this seat was mine?’
I stare at her, aghast, a pleasant smile plastered over my face. ‘Not at all,’ I say.
A familiar voice, female but not human, echoes through the carriage: ‘The next stop is Croy.’
‘My stop,’ says the girl. She stands, shoulders her bag, smiles again. ‘See you tomorrow.’
She gets off the train and I watch her go, afraid to return to the community. I know that it would be best if I just stood up, slipped quietly through to another carriage. But that’ll disrupt the system, and I’ll get stuck in the crowd at Waverley.
I turn round slowly, closing my eyes as if everything is normal, and see Fat mole man talking to skinny hair gel man. They’re smiling. Ahead of me, angry happy man is watching me. He smirks and looks back out the window.
I look out the window as well, and my eyes meet angry happy man’s reflection. He looks back at me.
‘She liked you,’ he says, smirking.
I laugh and make myself more comfortable. Back to sleep.
This story first appeared in Keeping The Edge: An anthology of new urban fiction, available now on Kindle and in paperback. Image by Free-Photos on Pixabay / Public Domain.