Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Sunday Story: The Girl On The Train

So I've set myself a challenge: one 500 word short story posted by Sunday each week. Starting now, posted early. Like an artist posting sketches, this is to keep my hand in - in the most embarrassingly public way possible! Comments welcome.

The Girl On The Train
by Jason Cobley


The girl on the train is vaguely Arabic, the brim of a grey hat a shadow in her eyes. Her eyebrows are thick but plucked, shaped clean. Her eyes, heavy lidded, a line of blue underneath her lower lashes, seem open, dark and deep. Sitting comfortable and warm in her turtle neck shirt and denim jacket, she clutches her blue shiny faux leather bag across her lap. She steals glances at a girl sitting diagonally opposite.

The Arabic girl smiles to herself, as if they are sharing something, or she is reminded of something that amuses her. The other girl is Chinese, maybe half so, pink ear buds playing music from her pink iPod Nano that she holds in the opening of her canvas handbag. She clicks, her thumb moves in a circle, as she selects the next track to listen to. Her black hair falls about the shoulders of her jacket. Her knees, heels and ankles are together, prim and precise. The other girl is now texting on her iPhone, her fingers smearing the screen. She swipes her nose with her forefinger, taps away.

The old man next to the Chinese girl bows his head, eyes closed, looks up every now and again as if surprised by a noise. The gentle chug and soft chatter of the train track is all. He snores lightly, the girl smiles again. Her eyes smile strongest as her eyes catch the old man’s daughter in the seat opposite. Blonde, dark-rooted straw of hair, white canvas jacket, tan skirt flaying beneath the cheap brown leather bag she bought in a market in Tunisia, on holiday on her own. Her amusement is absent. She gazes out now at the darkness through the train window, seeing only her own reflection and that of the other passengers. She stares blankly at herself.

The couple on the other side of the carriage, newly retired, share space but not company. He dozes, his trousers riding up to show his six year old Christmas socks. His wife, all floral skirt and severe haircut, flicks briskly through a novel she bought at a church table-top sale. The white back cover, splashed with a photo of a rose above the blurb, speaks of something lost in the pages that she searches for vainly. Behind them, a middle-aged couple sit, arms folded, silent, sour. They have nothing left to say to each other anyway.

Further down the carriage, strangers sit alone but together, friends chat and the unimaginative sit. Just sit. Others ruminate. So many lives, alongside and parallel, they are travelling forward but in different directions. One man writes in a notebook.

The middle aged woman gets up abruptly, makes off down the carriage. Not to the toilet. That was in the opposite direction. Her husband lifts a Sainsbury’s bag off the floor, places it where she was sitting. Maybe they weren’t married after all.

The gentle chug and soft chatter of the train track, blank stares, familiar strangers, chug and chatter.
*** 
(c) Jason Cobley 2014

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