Sitting on the 07.32 from Pen Mill going to a meeting in Bristol I marvel at the things people still do to earn a living and count myself lucky to work at home. I never endure the daily commute amongst people intent only on getting to work (and back again). On the infrequent occasions, I happen to find myself amongst them, it’s now treat not trial.
I’m aware this line has benefits those stuck on the tube in London will never know. It is truly beautiful, and I watch my fellow travellers, wondering how many gaze like sheep or cows through the carriage window, rather than read or listen their way through the journey, shut off from the world around them on their phone or some other device.
I look at the brilliant blue sky and imagine God painted it just for my pleasure. The day holds the promise of warmth on skin and bone, and even in the city spirits will raise at the sight of a lovely day. The sun is bright, and the few clouds remind me of the rain at the weekend, washing everything fresh again. The banks are still spring green, bright, and verdant with vigour and growth. The trees in their lacey dresses are primped and preened in their seasonal best. But in a few short weeks it will all fade, replaced with the dusty grey-green of late summer.
Each stop along the route adds new members to the company forming in the carriage and we all sway and bump in unison to the rattle of the wheels over tracks.
Over on the opposite table seat is a woman putting on her face and I’m entranced. How does she manage to get everything looking so perfect when I can barely apply mascara stood still in front of the bathroom mirror? I assume years of practice have honed her skill to perfection.
And the man on the other side from her flash’s covert glances in her direction. Either she feigns not to notice or is oblivious to the desire on his face. I check her ring finger; nothing suggests she is spoken for but of course that means nothing these days. I wonder how long he has watched her like this. How many days, weeks, months or even years they have shared this time together, never once exchanging a word.
I become acutely aware my imagination is running away with me and smile inwardly as I realise the endless possibilities of getting it wrong. But the writer in me has already created their backstory and is now working on the plot that sees them thrown together in some mad encounter.
Perhaps the train crashes into a cow escaped from one of the fields lining our route. Perhaps he pulls her out of the upset carriage and helps her to safety. Perhaps over a shared cup of tea to steady shaking nerves he asks for her phone number and she, grateful for his strong arms and sure footing, hands it over. Perhaps they smile at each other recognising an opportunity appearing.
I look away, aware I’m staring and uncomfortable at the way my thoughts have gone, and am back with the sheep and cows, wondering which is the one unlucky enough to find itself caught under the wheels of the engine.
The train bumps its way along the track slowing down for yet another station, and time stands still. My heart skips a beat as I catch sight of him on the platform. I wonder if he still picks this carriage, chosen specifically today because it used to be ‘our carriage’, ‘our table seat’ and ‘our time’. I wonder if he remembers me and those journeys to and fro, backwards and forwards for six long years. I wasn’t sure he even travelled this way anymore. He could have changed jobs, moved house or even left the country. We never kept in touch.
The intervening years have changed us both. He is grey and wider than I remember. I’m hennaed, lighter and more professional. It’s been ten years since I last saw him get off the train and never look back. He never congratulated me when I told him about the much-anticipated promotion and would be working locally. I’d suggested we stay in touch, meet up, go out! I remember the look he gave me as he said ‘no, that wouldn’t do at all’. And the way my heart tugged in my chest as I realised he meant it, that this ‘thing’ I thought we had was all in my head.
The train doors unlock, and he comes into the carriage. I’d chosen what used to be ‘my seat’ and I look at him expectantly, waiting to smile when I catch his eye. But his gaze slides right over me and lands on the woman, makeup bag put away. He grins, she waves, and he chooses the seat next to her. The way he used to with me.
I watch their animated conversation for the rest of the journey through half-lidded eyes. I change her backstory and the plot in my head, removing Man No.1 as I’ve come to think of him, inserting Michael instead. I also change the ending; they don’t exchange phone numbers or fall in love. Instead, she changes her job, and he moves along the carriage to another.
My phone buzzes.
‘I love you, knock em dead today because you’re amazing and we’re all rooting for you darling xxx’
My husband, looking after the kids as I travel to make a pitch to my latest client.
I smile, one I know lights up every part of my face, and text back.
‘I love you so much and I’ll call you as soon as I’m done xxx’
I press send as the train reaches its full stop at Bristol Temple Meads.
(Image: victoraf / 66 images on Pixabay)