Monday, 1 June 2009

Strangers on a Train

It's just after eight in the morning and I'm on a train from Walsall to Birmingham. The carriage is only about half full, which seems almost miraculous for this time of day, although the half-term holidays may have something to do with it.

I've got a window seat, and have my bag on the next seat and am busy doing paperwork. We pull into Tame Bridge Parkway and another handful of commuters get on board, one of whom wants to sit by me. I see out of the corner of my eye a figure appear and then hover by the seat that my bag is on, and then there is an almost inaudibly quiet enquiry about the seat's availability.

I'm not saying that I'm a particularly miserable person at this time of the morning, but when I move my bag onto the floor I find myself making this look like more of an effort than it really is.

I now glance up and the vague figure becomes a young black woman in a reasonably smart, purple trouser suit.

Before sitting down she hesitates and then picks up the copy of the Metro still lying on the seat.

'Is this your paper?' she asks with the measured politeness of someone persevering with what they now think may have been a bad decision.

It is my paper and I haven't read it yet, but I'm already starting to feel slightly guilty about my bag-moving performance and so I say -

'Yeah, but you can read it if you want.'

She doesn't want to and tucks it away behind the fold-up tray in the back of the seat in front of her.

After a few minutes she takes a small, plain book out of her bag and starts reading that instead. I can't see what it is but when she turns the pages they make a quiet crackling sound that reminds me of the thin, shiny paper that bibles used to be printed on when I was a kid (and may still be printed on today for all I know.)

Maybe she's reading one now, to give herself the inspiration to deal with life's everyday adversities, like finding herself sitting next to a grumpy caffeine addict who wishes he had something to read as well.

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