Never pry into someone else’s life – especially a stranger on a train. This is a sound doctrine and it has served me well. But something about this young guy made the huge phone shine its messages on the screen like a beacon from the seat in front of me. I couldn’t help myself.
I’d seen him on the platform – red short trousers, heavy make-up, silver high-heeled shoes, the points of his blacked in eyebrows almost impossibly sharp. Like a catwalk model. Hip thrust to one side, the universal uneven stance from every red carpet minor list celeb event you’ve ever seen.
I got on the train first. It was just luck that he ended up in the seat in front. Then he held up the huge phone and that’s when I saw into his young life.
Some guy was messaging him, telling him he was the owner of a ‘multi-million pound company’, and asking if ‘she’ was available next week.
‘Will you be wearing an on point outfit?’
That was the limit of the thing. Nothing really. Just some young Asian man making ends meet. Turning a trick who was so deep into his fantasy that he was starting to concoct a backstory for himself involving wealth and success, almost like he was trying to justify payment for the services rendered. His money meant more. The kid might even work harder if he bought the millionaire company bullshit. It was worth the risk.
The train stopped after a few minutes at a shopping mall. The young guy got off, clattering down the platform, chin up high, on point.
The next guy in the seat was a businessman. He laid out a laptop and got to it. Very important man. Time too valuable to waste. Life more grey than his hair.
When I left the train at the end of the outbound journey I knew I’d be back on it soon enough, deep into the canned lives of everyone on those tracks. Chugging slowly along. Gambling with the proximity of the next person to take a seat nearby.
The return trip was worse. A football match between two local sides was happening that afternoon and the train was so full that I was left standing up against the luggage rack, listening to heavy talk of fights and fear, beer cans being opened, men trembling with excitement you don’t often see on a train. Everyone pressed up close to each other, laughing, banging on the windows at stations when a pretty girl appeared on the platform. Police officers in front looked bored, constantly on the radio; seen it all before. An hour and a half I stood there staring grimly out of the window, waiting for someone to single me out as not being a member of the same shitty tribe. They didn’t bother. I was thankful for it. As the train rolled into the opposition’s town the mood started to turn ugly. People were pushing, lighting cigarettes, starting the first bent over steps of Liam Gallagher walks. It was a bad scene. They swaggered out of the train like a pack of Lemurs searching for fallen fruit. Good times. Bad postures.
I walked up the hill in the sunshine. Travelling is okay, I thought, as long as the destination is worthwhile. It had been. Love’s like that.