I took the seat furthest away from the automatic doors. Anyone would on a cold day. The waiting room was walled by floor to ceiling windows of thick safety glass that looked out onto platforms 2A and 3A. And the rain.
A family of four entered the room and made straight for the two seats next to me. I moved my bag and continued to read my book. The Mum sat opposite; Father two seats away with their toddler daughter on his knee. Their young son sat right next to me and tried really hard to concentrate on some brightly coloured game on his phone. He kept stealing tiny glances at me.
I checked myself. Yeah, I was odd-looking. Odd enough to be stared at anyway. With my large brown Yak Wool coat (made in Nepal, so the label said), old jeans, yellow boots, beard, and a brown woollen hat, I looked like a homeless yeti waiting for its train back to the Himalayas. Or a Salvation Army Hostel. They probably have one on Everest – anywhere where the going is fair to poor is fair game to the Sally Army.
The kid was glancing at my open Bukowski book and mouthing some words. I looked at the pages, Chapter titled “Rape, Rape, Rape.”
I turned the page and hoped the boy hadn’t read any more. What might it have done to him? What had he seen? When the people opposite got up to catch the 15.31 to Penzance he moved quickly across to the other seats and sat with his head down kicking the floor anxiously with his bright shoes. I didn’t have time to explain to his Father or to the security cameras that it was unintentional. The book was a great work of art. What the hell was I doing reading that sort of thing in public in eyesight of the world at large, anyway? I shouldn’t give people any more reasons to whip on me.
I checked the facts (like the King of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy I will never be) and tried to tell myself the piece was not glorifying rape (which, in truth, it doesn’t) but was just a great literary signpost from the King of the Gutter. The thing was worth reading. Really. Just not by a kid. Simple mistake to make in a crowded waiting room.
They left soon afterwards. All four of them striding out onto the rainy platform, full of presents and half-term pseudo-happiness that would wear off before the week was out and Dad realised he preferred to be in the office; where the women didn’t look like his wife and where the kids never interrupted his train of thought about just that.
Six empty seats opposite me now. Then ‘Sssshhhhhhhuhhhhhhuuuuuhhh’ from the doors. A middle-aged man with a battered suitcase walked up the rows and sat down directly across from me. He was bald, clean shaven, in a black sweater and black jeans and work boots. On his bag was an ID badge ‘Michael’, his picture, and his job title: Cleaning Technician.
He got his mobile phone out. Tap tap tap tap tap tap. Pause…sigh….. ‘BEEP’. He opened what I assumed to be a message and mouthed the words as he read them. When he finished, his face dropped and he slowly shook his head. He let his hands fall into his lap. He had a huge underbite which made him look like a bulldog, and by jerking his jaw even further forward in some nervous gesture he’d done a lot throughout his life, he made it even more pronounced. Right now he was grinding those teeth anxiously, making the bottom incisors look like they were chewing his nose. He was sad – I was sure he was bravely holding back tears. Something in that message…. I felt for him. I wanted to ask him if he was ok but the room was filling up again and I didn’t know if it’d make it all worse; turn the situation into something explosive. Shit, he might even run out onto the tracks. I could see the headlines in the Derby Evening Telegraph: “Man dies after huge row in waiting room. Police looking for a suspect in fancy dress with possible mental health problems”. I didn’t need that. Nor did Michael, I suppose. I would just have to sit and watch it play out without interference in the karmic direction of things.
I tried to keep reading, but my mind wouldn’t leave Michael. What was going on? Was his wife leaving him? Was he losing his job? Was I making it worse by staring? Yes….yes I was.
He continued to grind his jaw forward, then, like he’d made something important up in his brain, he stood up, shrugged his shoulders, and headed for the platform. My heart started to pound. Here he was, broken relationship, job gone, and I was letting him kill himself. I had to do something.
I watched him stand too close to the thick yellow line by the edge of the platform as the next train came in. I stood up, ready to run out of the waiting room and stop him. He stepped back from the train. It pulled up quickly and vomited out the passengers. From among them, a blonde woman came straight for Michael, put down her bag, then threw her arms around him. He laughed and held her tightly as she kissed him on those teeth. I was saved.