by Rowan Luis
I had to go away, to go to a funeral for Felix.
It was a Sunday.
On the train back I sat at a table, on an aisle seat. I always feel like I can't look up in an aisle seat, in case I make eye contact with someone and get trapped in loads of faces just looking at me with no escape.
Maybe that's how a chicken feels in a battery farm.
Plus it's not as easy to look out the window if you have to look past someone else's face.
Opposite me was a woman in her 50s in a flowery dress, talking on the phone and heavily scented with perfume. She was doing my head in because I didn't want to hear all about her life and smell her as she did it.
I eyed up another potential seat for a while, I didn't want anyone else to notice me doing this, because they might catch on and get there first
I moved there without having to fight anyone for it. Opposite me a 4 year old boy was playing his hand-held computer-thing and holding it up like a book as a barrier between us. When he put it down he stared at me and I became very engrossed in my book.
His dad fed him endless sandwiches that smelled like corned beef, it made me hungry so I decided to eat my banana. It was horrible because it wasn't quite ripe enough and tasted nearer to plantain, totally dry and not sweet enough, but the thing about bananas is that once you've opened them you have to finish it. It was sticky on my hands and dried like cum all over my fingers. The kid kept swinging his legs and kicking me.
I fell asleep and woke up when a waft of air fanned my face. I opened one eye and saw that the kid and dad had gone. I could smell perfume and realised that the flowery woman from before had moved to sit next to me. She was talking to the guy in front of her, I couldn't hear because of my headphones. I didn't look up to see his face but he was wearing a suit, so I assumed he was probably in his 30s and professional. I ignored them and turned my music up. I wondered what the train would be like if it was full of me's. Sleepy-faced and silent up against the window with a set jaw. We'd all just doze and not discover anything about anything I suppose.
When one song finished and there was a pause before the next, I heard the flowery woman say to the suited guy: “oh yes, he was only 19, a crash in Thailand I think, it's tragic.” For a split second I considered not saying anything because of my fantasy about the train being full of people who didn't want to speak to each other. But I decided not to waste this opportunity for human interaction and it was too much of a coincidence to not talk about.
I de-tangled my ears and hair from the headphones and turned to ask her if she was talking about Felix.
Her face was one massive surprised smile, with tasteful make-up and freckles, I could smell her perfume more as she turned.
“Yes!” She inquired how I knew him by crinkling her eyes and forehead, so I told her I used to work with him and that I'd just been to his funeral. The suited guy opposite exclaimed loudly in disbelief. I looked at him for the first time and he was just a lad in his 20s; the top button of his black shirt was open and around the collar hung a white un-tied tie. We looked at each other, I scanned his jawline. He looked right at me, for longer than would be usual.
The perfume woman was big and warm and said how wonderfully small the world is, interrupting our barely noticeable connection. We all chatted for the next 3 hours or so, other people looked sideways at us with what I interpreted as jealousy; we were talking and laughing and we were total strangers!
I got to hear about her sons and daughters and how the lad was going to Plymouth to join the Navy. He was pretending not to be nervous. He said he had big ambitions to be a bomb-disposing diver. After some silence he asked me where I'd been out the night before, he gestured to the faint stain of a stamp on the back of my hand. I told him the name of the club and his face didn't register comprehension, but instead reeled off a couple of clubs he'd been to in Brighton. He looked at me without saying anything more and I felt as if I could carry on looking at him for a long time.
We broke eye contact and turned to scan the fast moving scene out the window, this diffused the tension and we carried on talking. Each movement of conversation slotting perfectly, like good dancing. He told us that in the Navy touching each other would be forbidden, and looked back at me. The perfume woman smirked.
When we got to our stop we both said good bye to the woman. He ran to get his connecting train, I wished him luck. I knew I had to rush to get the same train but I also knew it wouldn't be the last one, and that I'd had enough of the tense flirting, so decided not to hurry and maybe I'd just miss it, maybe I wouldn't.
On the next train there was nowhere to sit, so I stashed by bag in the aisle next to the buffet cart – where they keep room for bikes or something. I stood by the window to look out. It was an old fashioned train and I left the window right down and stood there for a while. I had my headphones on but couldn't really hear the music because the wind was so loud and I could barely open my eyes because it was so strong.
Something caught the corner of my eye and I turned to look, it was the Navy lad walking past me, slowly. He held out his arm in an equally slow wave, just showing me the palm of his hand and his eyes nodded towards me. I looked from his palm to his face. I felt like he was pushing himself onto me, into the wall or out the window. I smiled back and he walked on, I'd probably never see him again. I know we'd both been fantasizing about having sex in the toilet.
I felt a woman standing behind me, I knew I'd hogged the window for long enough.
When I arrived in Totnes I discovered there were no buses to my village, so I caught one that would take me as close as possible, just a twenty minute walk from the cottage. It was a hot day and I ended up walking in the wrong direction, getting lost in country roads with high hedges. No cars worth hitching, all going in the opposite direction, my 20 minute walk turned into three hours.
In the bushes along the side of the road I noticed long swathes of what looked like thick cobwebs. When I looked closer I could see they were more like cocoons strung from one branch to another, full of writhing thin white caterpillars; they would probably one day turn into butterflies, thousands of them at once. A bit further into my journey I saved three furry caterpillars from certain death by rolling them out of the middle of the road, one of them tried to attack my stick by jabbing its head at it.
Back at the cottage, I went through to make a cup of tea, my house-mates weren't in but they'd left dirty dishes in the sink. The kitchen window was covered in thick black flies. I counted them, over 30 flies, some had migrated onto the cupboard door. I leant over the dirty sink and opened the window, none of them moved, they were too lethargic. I wafted the stiff window back and forth and a few of them dropped into the air outside. I left the window open and checked the other rooms.
There were flies covering both windows in the living room, I managed to count 45 on one, and only 13 on the other. It made me itch, the more I looked the more there were, like birds in a bush. Where had they come from? Had they come in from outside or were they breeding as I watched, trying to get out? I'd never seen so many, apart from on cow pats or piles of horse shit.
I know the girl I live with won't like it, she traps woodlice in upturned mugs and leaves them there for “someone else to remove.” There's a crack in one of the walls, and they spill out of it into a little pile just behind a bit of curled up carpet. I came home one day and found 4 mugs and one pint glass on the floor upside down. I lifted them up and found tragic bodies curled up in tight balls that didn't move when I prodded them. In the pint glass was a spider who's legs had broken, it was dragging itself along the carpet, still not dead.
I shooed the flies with my sleeve but they just aimlessly ambled away from me and sat elsewhere, some of them already lay dead on the window sill. I wondered if somewhere in the house there was a pile of maggots turning into flies and they only felt comfortable hatching while we were all away for the weekend. In the spare room there were 5 or 6. Only one fly had managed to make it to my room. In the morning there were two. Now it's raining really hard so none of them will want to go outside. They'll probably end up getting more lethargic, until there's only a thick layer of dead black fuzz for me to throw away.
Author's Note: I said I too much
Posted on 06/07/2010
Copyright © 2021 Rowan Luis