Wednesday 22 July 2020

Eyes Across a Carriage

by Davd Gower, 

strong tea - milk no sugar

Eyes are the uncontrolled messengers of the body. They tell so much in such a short time. They convey love, lust, fear, hate or coldness passing their message to the recipient instantly. Eyes give away the secrets that the body wishes to keep within. They are part of the body outside physical control and signal to the outside world the innermost thoughts of the individual.

Such florid thoughts related to the events of earlier in the day when two pairs of eyes met across the space of the 10.42 slow train from Ragwood to Churchdale Central, a small market town in what was a rural backwater of England. This slow train replaced an earlier and quicker service which was non operational due to yet another breakdown of the locomotives at the far end of the line. As a result, it was crowded with passengers who were already late for whatever appointments or adventures they had planned. Nevertheless, it was a train providing a link where buses were few and far between. People without cars depended on the train.

The carriages rocked and swayed in response to the undulations of the track and the set of points where the lines intersected. Some people chatted to each other, a few had their heads down as they gazed at mobile phones and laptops answering e-mails, filling in spreadsheets or watching tiny figures gyrate to tinny sounds which leaked from headphones.

Sarah sat in a window seat squeezed by the passenger beside her. He filled his seat spreading beyond the edge of it into the gangway on one side and against her arm and thigh. This man had no unpleasant agenda towards her; it was simply a matter of bulk as gravity spread his weight into the available space regardless. Opposite her another man sat with eyes closed and head resting against the window trying to sleep yet fighting the motion of the carriage. She was trapped in this corner until the next station when she would be free. It was only a few minutes more before she would feel the tension ease and she could be safe.

At the far end of the carriage the door hissed and slid back to open and allow the man to enter the compartment. He steadied himself as the train jolted and his gaze took in the people ahead of him. He looked relaxed and began making his way along the aisle stopping and chatting to passengers. Clearly, he knew some of them and exchanged pleasantries. Although he was at the far end of the carriage when he looked at her, she felt his eyes bore into hers. She felt uncomfortable and fearful. His gaze held hers for longer than was necessary. She knew that he knew her thoughts. Slowly, so slowly he was coming closer and she was sure that he would reach her before she had time to escape.

Jeff had steadied himself when the train lurched as he entered this carriage. He saw ahead of him rows of faces and the backs of heads. Most of these people were in their own world reading, working or watching the scenery pass by as the train followed the tracks which stretched ahead like a metal scar carved through the landscape. Not all the passengers. That woman at the far end in the corner had caught his eye, for longer than was usual. She looked tiny when compared to the giant of a man next to her. The seats of a railway carriage were designed for that mythical being an average – usually an average man – and as a result never really suited anyone. This carriage was no exception so the big man spilled over his seat and the sparrow like woman seemed to be moulded between him and the contours of the carriage wall.

She looked uncomfortable, not just physically but fearful. He was curious and looked for some message in her eyes. He made his way towards her slowly, always watching for a sign in her eyes. Jeff’s progress towards her was stopped by a foreign holidaymaker who asked him a question in broken English about the railway journey. Jeff did his best to answer, in the tradition of the English speaking with a foreigner. Slowly and in a louder tone but in English. It seemed to do the trick.

Sarah saw that the man talking with a foreigner. He was halfway along the carriage. Her station was next and she began to think about how she would move this man mountain behind her and escape the train. In a minute or so she would be free from the fear.

The train was slowing but instead of rolling into the station it stopped. The motor died away. The silence was broken only by the sound of fingers tapping on keyboards and the tinny headphones somewhere nearby leaking music. It was clear that the train would not move. The man had reached her row of seats and she had no avenue of escape. Not enough time. If only the train had not stopped so close to the station. If only the man had spoken more to the other passengers. If only she had not taken this train but the faster one then what she feared might never have happened. No beginner’s luck for her.

He looked directly into her eyes and his lips began to form the words she had feared since the moment she saw him. The words to which she had no answer came as she knew they would.

“Ticket please.”

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