“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”
The far too regular formality of catching the train was in motion. The same journey had took up four years of my life and the commute and the people involved in it all were repulsive to me: the same dead-eyed faces staring into dead-faced spaces, each dying of a mutual hatred and an uninspiring tiredness. Repulsive, that is, save for The Girl. For the past three months and for three quarters of an hour each day, The Girl would get on and sit, never in the same space but always nearest a window, consistently silent and somewhat vacant. With no words and no cares, she would stare out at the transient country sides and the occasional flat blocks with the whimsical examination that only a child could harness. Yet, however sedate she could seem, she was always attentive enough to dart her eyes accusingly around the carriage at the slightest of coughs, or bubble of laughter, to then linger upon the defendant as if they alone held the power to pull her daydreams out from under her feet.
Every day as we would arrive at her station; a few moments would elapse where she could finish her cigarette on the platform edge. In those precious minutes I could stare unabashed, myself hidden by her own reflection on the glass the other side, before she danced through her cloud of smoke and clambered on. The sight of a cigarette was almost constant in her right hand or, if not, there was a quiet suggestion playing on her upturned lips that she had not long since got rid of one. In the beautiful gap between the last breaths of her self-created fog and joining me on the carriage, it was hard for anybody not to look at her. Other people did not hesitate to make this act obvious. It wasn’t as if she was really truly charming or even fine looking of any sort (at least not in the way most people saw it as her nose was just a bit too straight, mouth ever so slightly crooked on the left side and altogether quite a cold-feeling creature to ever be considered thus), but she emitted a pure magnetism. The kind of magnetism that is impossible to possess for most mere mortals such as you or I. Her grey eyes mirrored the stream of her projecting, tobacco-tinted breath and her hair fell about her long face in such a perfect but unkempt way. She was uncommonly tall, far succeeding most of her gender in great crowds, and she moved her long limbs with a feline elegance that cannot be taught by the greatest of teachers. She moved always with the half-clumsy poeticness of a person who thought nobody was watching. She barley spoke to strangers or friends, by what I had observed at least, which made you feel extraordinary if you had the blessing of hearing her emit a small tickle of a cough. This made the lowly stranger, the dutiful observer, the languishing I, think that she could be anything or anyone. She herself was unaware to this power.
I was certain that I was in love with her. I was certain when I watched her fingers haphazardly interlace with one another, when her breath caught in her throat at something particularly beautiful or when I saw the tiniest of wrinkles by her eye deepen as she unknowingly creased into a hint of a smile. Her chestnut hair seemed to reflect the tiniest bit of sunlight even on the dullest of days , illuminating the easy curls that fell from her head and her eyes always big, round and open. The Girl seemed to me neither happy nor sad. Three months of grace, three months of conversation-less intimacy on my behalf was all I had to show for myself and this moment, this day – Ladies and Gentleman – was the day that the sun of my timidity had set and The Girl would no longer be a stranger.
The time of retribution arrived too fast as it usually does: way before I had time to firmly devise a foolproof plan of allurement as she stepped onto the train and resumed an anticipatory seat by the window. It was around six in the evening and the sun was mid-way through its transition from being brilliant to ebbing away into its last dying embers and the left of the carriage was tinted a soft pink. Stained with a kaleidoscope of different hues of blues and pinks, my heart sank even lower when this sentimental atmosphere seemed to envelop the girl even more than usual and not even the consecutive jerks from the tracks or the group of slightly intoxicated singing men at the back of the train could shake her from her self. My hand shook as I tried to steady my knees that unbeknownst to me had begun bouncing up and down, nervous as I tried to summon the courage to cough out the smallest of splutters in order to possess even some tiny part of her attention. Every bark I expelled failed miserably as the sound echoed through the cage but barely even made her blink. I knew the seat next to her was reserved but the restrictions of such were at the back of my mind as I settled on occupying that empty, charming space. At the next stop, for I knew she only had but three stations left until her own departure, I moved as if possessed into the spot next to her. We rolled to a halt but she didn’t turn from the window. I had no idea what to say, perhaps a meagre ‘hello’ would suffice, but I did know that dismissal today was not going to succeed and I swallowed the golf ball that had risen in my throat and braced myself for impact.
“ She moved always with the half-clumsy poeticness of a person who thought nobody was watching.”
“That’s my seat”. He said it before I could introduce myself and the unfamiliar grumble sent shivers down my spine as it hit me. I refused to look at the stranger who had just boarded but I could sense the brute looming over my seated frame (it was not hard as I later discovered he was a monstrously tall and broad fellow) and I stared, instead, straight ahead. You should definitely pretend to be deaf, my subconscious wisely advised me, or at least unable to understand English. As my mind raced through long-forgotten GCSE French, the giant tapped me twice on the shoulder and tutted with the tip of his thick tongue in the most irritated of fashions. The touch of these fat fingers caused me to look into the face of my prosecutor and he raised one of the slugs that hooded his eye sockets as if he knew the of the opportunity he was taking away from me. He was smug, but then again who wouldn’t be if they got to sit so close to her. I had no choice, the insistence and loud annoyance of the beast had drew many of the commuter’s eyes in our direction, and I got up. The seat still lingered with my own dull warmth. I turned my eyes down the carriage towards The Girl and her new gargoyle as I sat back in that sad cushion and was surprised to see her bright eyes staring straight back into mine. She offered me an apologetic smile but just as I recognised it she lifted her head back to the beckoning attention of the window.
The duration of the journey from then seemed to crawl along, lengthened by the heavyweight of what could have been. People got on and people got off and I gawked and glared but The Girl never once returned my melancholic look. Her fingers traced the contours of her lips, head twitching ever-so-slightly at the passing street lamps as we approached her stop – which soon came – and she got off, just like any other night.
Creative Writer | Chloé Laight