Initially, Little Man was hanging round the magazine section of the railway station café muttering to himself. Early morning train station cafes aren’t busy places. He was being watched by two black women with suitcases who were eating microwaved sandwiches at one of the filthy plastic tables.
I stood third in a small queue for coffee, with half an hour to kill before the Ely train pulled out of Nottingham. I needed something to keep me awake; I had another 24hrs of travelling to do at least. The teenage girl in front of me with thick-lensed glasses shuffled and moved her weight from foot to foot, impatient for her turn to be served.
I turned back to look at Little Man, but he was walking towards me with purpose; standing close beside the girl in front of me, touching her arm. He gave off a smell of dingy flats; no washing powder; maybe heroin, too. Too many nights in the wrong places.
He nodded to the girl and I realised that if they weren’t a couple, then they were at least travelling companions. He glanced out of the corner of his eyes at me, not more than six inches from my left arm, and bought both his arms out from his sides like a bodybuilder – fists clenched, arms bent, like a lizard trying to scare off a predator by flattening it’s ribs. He tensed, shuddering under the effort, and kept darting glances at me. He was muttering under his breath and the tendons in his neck were straining, making him look like a tortoise reaching for a leaf. It was a primeval display, part deterrent, part mating ritual. He kept this up for about thirty seconds until, finally, she had been served at the counter and handed him a sausage and egg bap. He shrunk back to his real size, took his breakfast, holding her hand tenderly as they stepped out onto the windy platform.