Her yellow plissé trousers were a bit dishevelled by this time of night, the combination with a yellow leopard print jacket probably more than daring on others, seemed perfectly in the ordinary worn by her. Her blonde hair was already marred at the roots by the brown showing there, disclosing her true hair colour to everyone who wished to know. She had a sweet smile, lips slightly parted, her brown skin radiant. From her ringless fingers I could tell that she wasn’t engaged or married and I thought that that was just as well; she didn’t look like the sort of person who needed anyone to make her whole. When the tube came to a halting stop and she moved as if this was her, I instinctively inched forward because I wanted to say something but I didn’t know what exactly it was that I wanted to tell her. With some people, you know that they are carrying heartbreak on their shoulders like a second skin, one well-worn and accustomed to the body. She was one of those, and I wished I knew just the right words to say.
But then she walked past me and out the doors and I watched her back move away from the train as I was pulled into the next tunnel and I knew I would never see her again.
Her accent was broad and heavy, as if to underline her lithe figure and small face by contrast. “There ya go, little love,” she said and wrapped the flowers I’d just picked out from a bunch of aggressively purple dahlias into brown paper. As she handed them to me, she laughed. Green stains from flower stems were scattered all over her apron and somehow, I thought, I’d never seen anyone more beautiful.
They looked just like two little boys, the way they were sitting opposite me, slouched into their blue upholstered seats and drinking cheap yellow tail white wine from the bottle, playing some game on one of their iPhones. It must have been hilarious judging by their laughter. One was wearing yellow vans, old skool, with two mismatched socks and light jeans that looked as if they hadn’t been washed in ages. The other one wore all black, with brown hair falling over his eyes. They looked older than they were behaving and somehow still younger than their age, carelessly making their way to some party or other on a Saturday night at 10 o’clock. There was something in the way they talked that made me want to be a part of their small circle of intimacy, made me want to join their good-humoured banter instead of listening in on a conversation not meant for me.
The tube, I’ve realized, is a strange place regarding intimacy. You are in such proximity to so many people, daily, and you listen to small episodes out of their lives, or you look at them and imagine their lives, their work, their loves. And then they get up and leave, just like that, and you’ll never know. There’s something weird about peeking into your neighbour-commuter’s free Evening Standard on a ride back home, effectively reading the newspaper with a complete stranger. There’s also something wonderfully human in that.
There’s a boy and a girl sitting at the table next to me, the café almost empty save for them and me. They’re clearly on a first date, both of them shy in an honest way, laughing a little bit too loud at the other’s jokes. They’re drinking a hot chocolate while one of the last sunny autumn days comes to an end and she’s just started to ask the important questions like: Who’s the person you love the most?, or: What’s your happiest memory?
I hope they’ll both go home tonight and text their friends about how great they thought the other one was.
The night was dark and dense but still, the spillage of people from the mouth of the underground station wouldn’t stop, they kept coming, spewed out of the brightly lit exit. I watched them hurry to the pedestrian crossings where they had to wait for the lights to turn green, making the hurrying from before redundant. They were all of them in some ways lost in their own thoughts, or in the music trickling into their ears or in the messages on their phones while they were making their way home on a cold November evening, or somewhere better than this street, anyway, and I smiled, watching them from my bedroom window.