I catch the train: Bognor Regis to
It’s about half seven in the morning and my eyes itch as I ram the flimsy travel card into the barrier machine. The grey muzzled bloke overseeing this looks rough as hell. He’s a big bloke, and he’s wearing one of those fluorescent safety jackets which makes him look like a canary on steroids. I can’t tell if he’s going to say good morning or not until the last second.
I’m the first one onboard.
My hands shake as I plunk my takeaway Costa coffee down onto a little fixed table on the train-surrounded by one of those four seat affairs. Two forwards and two go backwards. I opt for the one which looks cleanest, although the pattern is ghastly with swirls of clashing browns and oranges, like Technicolor vomit. I realise choosing one going backwards will make me feel nauseous, but think it will look stupid to switch. The coffee is lukewarm and bitter with sea-surf cataracts of scum. It tastes like shit.
Some of it has slopped over onto the back of my hand, so I wipe it off on the thigh of my dark jeans as I stash my worn rucksack down by my feet. The hastily ironed check shirt I’m wearing has a huge neglected crease down the torso, and I’m pretty sure I look as rough as the bloke at the barrier. I stretch and smooth my hands through my rakish hair like a guy in a movie. I take off my square glasses and push my fingers into the corners of my eyes until it hurts. I’m really short-sighted. I mean, really. I’m like Velma in Scooby Doo when she loses her specs and mistakes the monster for Shaggy. Funny I guess- but when it comes down to it I’m practically blind and it’s bloody awful. A few more people are starting down the platform towards the train now. They are blurred creatures who slur through my squint.
I needlessly wipe a lens with the corner of my creased shirt, and push my glasses back on.
I glance at the few bleary-eyed characters that’ve started to board the carriage. I decide to name them. There’s some ginger guy,(Ron) and a Scottish sounding older couple talking about their daughter where the wife has some sort of lazy eye (christened McWang-eye). Everyone else is pretty unremarkable, aside from this ferret-faced man in his mid fifties with anaemic hair who reminds me of the white rabbit in ‘
Then a woman sits opposite me. Glancing up from my coffee for just a second, I observe how the dark skirt-suit she’s wearing hugs her slender body. She holds a satchel in one hand, and a thick manila envelope in the other which she places on her lap and folds her pale hands over, before smoothing out a little furrow in her skirt material. When she crosses her stocking clad legs I think to myself that a weaker man may splutter on his poor quality coffee. Although they’re probably tights, not stockings, since this is not the 1950’s.I would prefer it if they were stockings, however. She has long, dark hair which lays softly either side of her face as she stares intently out of the window as if she’s looking for something. If this were a Chanel advertisement, a hotter version of me would wordlessly lead her out of the carriage and into my abode. I can’t help but smirk.
Sensing me staring, she averts her eyes and goes to tug something out of the satchel with a little ‘click’ of the bronze clasp. I stare down at my crappy rucksack feeling like a massive pervert. Then a miracle happens. To my surprise, she tugs out a little book and a gleaming silver pen (which looks damn pricey), before scrawling something on one of the back pages. The book looks like a diary, but the tiny printed numbers at the bottom of each side, and the way the spine’s bound tells me it’s a printed copy of something. The cover is blank. She tears off the page which bears whatever she’s just written, and pushes it across the course table towards me.
It can’t be. Oh God, it is. A phone number; namely, hers I presume. I am overwhelmed with a sensation of horror and delight. And nausea, actually; but I put that down to the fact I’m travelling backwards. I glance up at her, probably holding the expression of someone who has just been diagnosed with the bad news that yes, you have cancer, but no, it isn’t terminal. She winks at me and I almost throw up in my mouth. I look behind me to check the hotter version of me from the Chanel advert isn’t there, and she’s grinning when I turn back to her. The front to carriages of the train could easily have been consumed in a mushroom cloud of smoke and fire in that instant, and I would have been none the wiser.
Still holding my bewildered gaze with her dark eyes, she abruptly picks up the envelope on her lap and tears along it neatly, yet somehow brutally with a fingernail, before glancing at a broad sheet of paper inside. It looks as if it’s been wedged in the wrong way by somebody, as she struggles to tug it out from the envelope.
It’s breached.’ I blurt out, reverting to comedy in a desperate attempt to dowse the awkwardness of the whole situation.
She laughs like it’s the funniest thing she’s ever heard, and I imagine how this would make her lovely face light up if the sun could filter properly through the grainy window. She seems pleased with whatever the contents of the envelope reads as she scans it, and then slides it wordlessly into the satchel. The little book she keeps grasped firmly in her hands. I wonder what it is. Her knuckles are white.
I thought you looked a funny one.’ She offers, easily.
I am unsure whether to be horribly offended, or immensely flattered. She doesn’t look like she either cares or expects an answer, which makes two of us. Then she leans across the table towards me, and gives me a peculiar and evasive look. I feel both flattered and threatened.
So, if you had to shag a Mr Man, who would you shag?’ She asks quizzically.
Damn. I knew this was too good to be true. But the churning in my stomach and the soft rumble of the train below me tells me she has actually just asked me this question.
‘Mr Bump,’ I reply, triumphantly, ‘so that I could kill him afterwards and make it look like an accident. That way nobody would ever know.’
I notice that she checks something in the little book before she gives me a little glance of approval and giggles at my response, which is strange. I throw up in my mouth a little again. The feeling of nausea persists as she asks me the next few questions. These included whether I thought that Boris Johnson looks like a Little Britain character(yes), and the most crazy thing I’d ever done(getting a temporary tattoo on my face when I was thirteen). It starts to feel like an inquisition, and I don’t like it. Each time she checks in the little book before laughing.
She suddenly says she needs to go to the bathroom, and winks at me before saying she trusts me to protect her things; even the little book, so long as I don’t look inside it. The last part is spoken with a severe tendency which alarms me. What alarms me more is the fact she trusts me with her things.
Of course I look.
On closer inspection, the cover is warm from how tightly she’s been clutching it. It’s dark and rather smooth, but not like leather; moleskin perhaps. Feeling guilty, I flick to the back of the book where a page is turned down. I presume this to be the place she kept referring to. Today’s date is printed neatly in the top right hand corner, and it seems to be a set of questions and responses set out with a different font corresponding to each, like a script. No, wait; it’s actually a joke book.
In type ink, each of the jokes I made in the last few minutes stand in bold on the page. How is that possible? I think I may vomit onto the seat next to me.
I flick back a couple of months, and it’s the same thing. Stuff I can barely remember saying that made someone or other laugh. And it’s all here in this book. Suddenly, the content of the envelope slips out from between the pages. She must have put it inside here for safe keeping. It’s a letter confirming a publishing contract for this material- the little book. All my material.
Hearing a voiceover make the announcement of the next stop, I grab my rucksack and jolt out of the door, not caring which stop it is or where I’m going. I think that on my own two feet I can go wherever I chose, and I laugh all the way sprinting down the platform towards the exit barrier until the sound distorts into a curdling sob like a drowning infant.
I throw up on a rough looking bloke at the barrier.