the heroine

Short Stories / Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

The quickly darkening city spread out before her like a unidimensional platform, only punctuated by the lit windows of the tall office blocks, the street lamps and the light garlands of station inns and all the other light seeping out of every imaginable corner onto the dark plain. Light was what moulded the scene, what gave it shape by contrast, it was everywhere and too much (a bit) and the whole of the city seemed to be nothing but a mass of black houses and lights and blackness, except for the hill far away from where the train took her, on the other side of the river, the hill which disclosed its form only through the houses distinctly lit by the windows of the houses opposite.

She was reading, she’d made it her habit to always carry a romance novel in her purse so she could spend her time waiting (in trains, in doctor’s offices, in cars, in cities, in life) reading about other people’s lives. But her reading was disturbed by a loud voice a bit further up in the carriage. Over the rattling of the train and the noise of the tunnel they shot through at this very moment, she couldn’t at first make out what it was that the person was saying, but she could gauge from the tone of the man’s voice, the unpleasant sting in it, that he was being rude.

“Go back to your country, why don’t you,” she heard him say just when they’d come out of the tunnel and her whole body stiffened. For a second she doubted whether she’d heard it right – it couldn’t be that this situation was happening right now, mere metres away from her. Things like that didn’t happen, not truly. Not when she was around, anyway.
“Did you think you could just come here and suck at the marrow of our country, bleed us dry so we’ll pay you through?”

The voice was loud enough for the whole carriage to hear, and even though the passengers were sparse, the ones who were there opened their eyes wide and looked at each other astonished, panicking what to do, whether to do it, whether it would be appropriate to get up and see what’s going on.

“Just lazying around, and stretching out that hand, eh?”

She gulped. She looked around and prayed that it would stop, that the man would stop talking, or the person he was addressing would talk back at least, or that someone else, anyone else would get up and say something.

She could hear the man taking a noisy sip, and, craning her neck to try and get a glance, her thought was confirmed; he was drinking a beer. She could see the blue of the can but could not see the man’s face. Maybe he’d stop now.

She read on in her book, it was a good scene; the heroine was finally getting to the point where she realized that she’d been wasting her life away running after the bloke who couldn’t care less about her, and was now causing a scene in front of the bar they’d first met. Quite a good scene, really. She was annoyed that the enjoyment of the scene was being diminished by the rude man, by the whole situation, by everyone not stepping up and letting this happen. There, he went on: “Got nothing to say for yourself, eh. Lousy bastards, the lot of yas.”

She looked up from the book and tried to catch the eye of another passenger, looked around agitatedly, there must be someone who would step up, right? In these situations, there’s always someone who steps up, there’s always a good guy to this, at least that’s how it goes in books and movies, and life often imitates books and movies, if we come to think about it. But everyone suddenly avoided her eyes now; the granny in the compartment next to hers knitted on as if she couldn’t hear (to be fair, maybe she truly couldn’t hear), the young man in the compartment one over had just put back in his ear pods after listening in on the conversation for a bit, but she could see that he was uncomfortable and itching to take them out again to hear what was going on now. And she could hear that there were some other people a bit further up, but they also did not seem to make a move. Was she destined to be the heroine in this scene? Was it her turn now? Was this how novels went? What if the man attacked her? What if she jumbled up the words and embarrassed herself? What a stupid thought, she laughed, how could one embarrass oneself in front of a man having a go at someone while sipping his beer alone in a train after dark.

But what if she misunderstood and it’s all fine, and they’re just having a laugh?

“I was actually born here, thank you very much, and you can fuck off just about now.” She gasped. It had happened! Someone had stepped up; the person being addressed herself, it was a “she”, she knew now, had stuck it to him, and rightly so.

All was well, and she settled back quite happily into her seat, thanking the lord for sending some courage to the woman, and reading on in her book, about the heroine of that other story.

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