- I've always been curious as to how others see me, how they'd describe me if I was a character in a book and what they'd write about me. I asked a friend of mine (see right) who is excellent with words and knows me quite well if she would describe me like I was in a book, she wrote an almost 'chapter' of herself describing me as if I was a stranger on a train that she'd never met before. I liked it so much that I thought I'd share it. Enjoy!
I clasped my fingers tighter around my coffee cup as I stared blankly out of the window. It was raining again. The landscape was a mass of sleeping emerald as it rolled by, distorted by the silver streaks that clung to glass. In my head I gave them voices, personalities, little stowaways trying to climb aboard the train to escape the rain, “save me” the called in their high pitched voices as the rapid breeze sent them flying off into the distance. It had been a long journey. I half laughed, half disapproved of myself as I reclined my head against the seat closing my eyes. This part of the journey was always the worst. Coming home. Outside the landscape was changing, the horizon became more jagged, more original, but they were only hills. The garish strip lights in the aisle flickered overhead, briefly adding some excitement into the otherwise pointless reflection.
The train was always so quiet on this route, no screaming children, or arsehole businessmen…but no-one to talk to all the same. It wasn't until the ticket collector came huffing down the aisle to alert us a stop was coming up -coughing and spluttering as he passed – that I realised I wasn't completely alone in the carriage. An old lady slept with her head half leant against the glass opposite, half away somewhere in dream. Another, a young Asian guy, sat with his feet on the seat opposite, absent mindedly scrolling across his phone to catch a glimpse of the world outside – whilst he sat inside, dressed for snow in September.
Aside from that there was me, and girl sat opposite headphones thrust far into her mind – apparently sat blocking out the world as she stared into the distance. She looked friendly enough. Although sat defensively, her pale speckled arms wrapped loosely around her own waist, there was something in the feint rosy hue in her cheeks that made her seem open to the world. A closed door perhaps, but it most definitely wasn’t locked. There was something blissfully childlike about her almost full cheeks, how – even at rest – they looked like they were waiting to be awoken, as if to awake excitedly from their slumber and run away from her face altogether. The image made me laugh once more as it replayed twice over in my head. I had to stop doing that, an internal monologue was one thing, but laughing at my own madness in public another. It must have been loud enough as her eyes caught mine and she quickly turned away, locking the door as she tightened her arms around her waist. I wanted to jump up and apologise, but frankly I’d embarrassed myself enough for at least this leg of the journey.
I dug my damp shoes deep under the table as I turned away, and returned to staring out of the window. It was only then that I realised my feet were aching, they had rubbed with the dampness. There’s a reason why vans were produced in America, if they had known English weather, they’d never even have bothered with the shipment. ‘I’d need to have them cleaned as soon as I reach home’ I thought as I gazed at the girl’s reflection in the glass, she was chewing faintly on her lower lip as if annoyed. For the second time that day I felt bad. I replayed the brief exchange of her wide chestnut brown eyes against mine again in my head. I chewed my bottom lip, as if the glass wall in which I watched her was in fact a mirror. The train began to stop, we were approaching a station.
Secretly I hoped it wasn't our stop…my stop. No, our stop, I decided right there that I would have to make it up to this random stranger that I had just openly laughed at for no apparent reason. This silent, serene stranger, who seemed to have the sight of galaxies in the far distance, for her line of vision seemed endless. As the station crawled into view, amidst of thick grey haze and condensation, she showed no signs of movement. She wriggled slightly, lighting up the screen of her well-loved Walkman to check the time briefly before returning to her reverie. We were a minute behind schedule according to the platform timetable, its lights blurred overhead, but otherwise on time. I could tell she loved that Walkman though, there was something in the way that she held it in her tiny slender hands, as if it were a precious metal, subconsciously caressing all the tiny battle scars it held. Then she smiled to herself. A subtle, half smile, the kind that would have gone unnoticed had a crazed stranger… sat opposite another unaware… stranger – the kind that would have gone unnoticed had the right eyes not been looking. The track must have changed, for her tightly closed lips betrayed her as they traced the lines of words they’d obviously sang a hundred times before. The train rumbled into motion again. I leaned back into my seat sheepishly when I realised that I’d been leaning forward, for no apparent reason again. Then she caught my reflection in her window, as I stared at her in mine, and we both smiled. I felt forgiven. And slightly awkward if I’m perfectly honest. But forgiven all the same. I turned to face forward feeling brave and then I decided to speak, not that I knew what I’d say, but I’d soon find out.
“Typical weather right?” I said, gesturing a little too animatedly as I held my hands up to a sky that wasn't exactly reachable indoors. She must have caught sight of me in the window as she turned round and took a headphone out of her ear. Of course she couldn't hear me, in the outside world, that was the point of headphones. I was such a dick. Her face opened up as she replied. “Sorry, were you talking to me?” she smiled politely, a hint of dubiousness in her voice. I smiled again, “the weather”, I repeated as if it wasn't stupid enough the first time, so this time I pointed out of the window this time to clarify that I was in fact, quite stupid. She smiled and nodded as she turned away, briefly, and then she turned back clearly debating whether to talk. She took the headphone from her other ear. “I like your accent” she said to me, her voice bright, British, she was clearly returning home; but not to the Midlands, further South perhaps. “Thankyou,” I replied, sounding perhaps more Scottish than my land of birth had intended, “Do you take this route often?” I replied, not really understanding it’s’ relevance but equally not willing to end the conversation either. “Not really” she replied, a hint of uncertainty in her voice – probably due to fact that the strange guy, sat in dirtied shoes with 3 days sleep missing from his face, was sparking up a random conversation with her. No, not me… A new passenger two rows forward tried to butt in, two rows further and maybe you’d not have been able to smell him, two miles back towards Edinburgh and you might not for sure. “Any idea what time we’re due at the next stop love?” he slurred in his thick northern accent. She shook her head nervously, but still smiling, and seemed to have forgotten about our conversation altogether.
The drunk man carried on talking to her regardless, I could see that it didn’t faze her, but I decided to get up and walk over to her anyway. I sat down in the seat opposite her, gripping a cup of coffee that was no longer warm. Her hair which flicked out at her shoulders was a coppery brown, with the same undertones as her eyes, and from this distance I could see the small spiked metal stud protruding from her lip. It was if, by a freak accident, a streak of lightning had hit the metal and shocked her hair spiky, warmed a boring walnut into a fiery chestnut brown. She would make a fabulous cartoon character. I could have sat and drawn her right there and then; her animated features and her rounded face – yet to be coloured by an artist’s pencil, save a few feint freckles that danced here and there -, her warm smile that never stretched too far across her face, inoffensive, closed, and yet open simultaneously. “What are you listening to?” was all I managed to reignite the conversation. She didn't seem to mind, in fact she looked relieved now that the drunk had redirected his attention towards the young Asian lad who appeared highly bemused. “Ed Sheeran” she said quietly, although something in the way she said it made me think she had a lot of respect for the things she held dear. He must have been another ‘Walkman’ case I thought. “Which track?” I asked, out of genuine interest. After all, being from where I'm from, any pale ginger guy with a guitar was practically a relative. Even though I was over six foot, slim and dark haired, family was family. “You Need Me” she replied, knowing she need not say any more from fan to fan. Then I decided to rap as one can only do that song. I’m not sure why. I’m not even 100% sure I sang along to the right words, or if I knew the right words as I blurted them out into the sombre silence of the carriage. But she laughed anyway.
“Where are you from?” was all she could manage between laughter as the others in the carriage stared at me wide eyed and, thankfully, speechless. “I've just come back from Edinburgh” I replied, sinking slightly into my seat slightly as the burn of a thousand glares of disbelief burned into my seat, “I take it you’re not from Manchester then?” I added as I sipped my luke-warm coffee. “I'm from Warwickshire” she replied “it’s not far from Birmingham I guess” she added, answering my less than subtle confused expression. “Ah, I'm at the Uni down in Warwick, well I’m going to be”. Her face lit up when I said this, as if I were an alien who had just grasped the English language. “The Uni's right near me” she said, looking out the window and then at me, hoping I had not taken that quite literally, “Are you getting off at Coventry?” she added. I nodded. I wasn’t aware that anyone even knew where that was. “Same” she added, as she placed a headphone back in her ear. Her small, elf like ears concealed under her loose flowing hair that just brushed the shoulders of her black and red t-shirt. Supernatural. I remember the print on it, although I didn't recognise it at the time, I had to ask. It was the print I was interested in, I promise. When I saw her rubbing her arms, white as the snow that lay heavily on top of the clouds, I took off my zip up jacket. She refused, but I refused to accept, the texture of the goosebumps across her thin arms could have been mistaken for a mountain range. But then again, it was cold. The glass had began to fog by that point, trapping us inside that obscure little carriage. But we talked as if we were running free across the fields outside, even as they heaved under the weight of the heavy rainfall. We spoke until the train rolled into the dingy platform that read “Coventry”.
I loved new friends. A new friend. Kirstie. With an IE. Fan of cats – but not cat hair -, Ed Sheeran, and accents. A fan of my accent, my love of city and colour (who apparently also exists in the North) and my festival bracelets. Kirstie. Saviour of my first endless journey to the Midlands before I started Uni, a near train-riot starter, and person who I once offended with my awkward misplaced humour. Kirstie, see, her chestnut hair and Supernatural T-shirt, I didn't recognise the print either. In the background you can see the old lady, the Asian kid got off two stops before me, (we never did see if the old woman woke up and found her stop), ignore my gay hair. It was raining, not indoors but it still counts. We took this picture somewhere outside Birmingham, I think, we both agreed on that anyway. The shitty brick houses were a give away sign. Look, in the bottom right hand corner, you can just see the top of the Walkman I mentioned. My coffee, which I never did finish. Yeah. Kirstie, McArthur, my latest train friend. My first friend from the Midlands. She’s on my friends list actually, yeah, you should add her. “Kirstie.” I smile to myself as I tuck my iPhone back into my jeans pocket, the photographic reminder of that strange meeting fading to black as it slips further into the denim darkness.