The woman who was sitting in the corner of the railway carriage with her eyes shut was attracting a good deal of attention. A welcome diversion after the six of us had been being cooped up in the carriage for hours of delays and go-slows. Now there were cows on the line. The woman was sobbing. I watched, fascinated, as the wet patch on her paisley scarf expanded. She was mewing like a small kitten.
The two youngish blonde women opposite me whispered, glanced over at her, shuffled along the seat, and clutched their designer shopping bags. The elderly lady in the other corner smiled at her, but eliciting no response, shrugged her shoulders and opened her book. The harassed looking businessman sitting by me, after a cursory glance at the crying woman, fell asleep with his head on his chest. I kept watching her,
She was clutching a bulging shopping bag with the legend ‘I Love My Dog More than People’ emblazoned across it. I thought this was a little rude, but if she felt like this who was I to deny her. Intrigued by the curious bulges in the sides of the yellow bag, I observed its contours from behind my newspaper. When she moved, a slight shaking noise, like pebbles, emanated from its depths. Would she be carrying pebbles in her shopping bag? It seemed unlikely, but why not? Were the contents making her weep? Perhaps she had broken something precious and was taking it to be mended?
I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She wore scarlet boots and peeping out between her boot-top and her jeans’ hem I noticed delicate ankles clad in bright green stockings. Her skin was fresh, but her eyes were sad. She could have been twenty or fifty. She sneezed, and in unison the occupants of the carriage jumped, chorused ‘bless you’ and then looked away in embarrassment. Her scarf fell exposing rich brown hair with a soft grey streak which curled around her face. Grabbing the scarf, she wrapped it back around her head. She was no longer weeping, but a swift wipe with the scarf resulted in black smudges appearing around her eyes. I wondered where she would get off the train; would there be someone meeting her?
When the coffee truck came round, I ordered a mocha and so did she.
‘Can I get that for you?’ I asked her. She shook her head.
‘That’s truly kind of you,’ she said in a voice made hoarse by crying. ‘But I prefer to buy my own.’Liz lives in North Yorkshire, where she spends her time writing and gazing at the wonderful view of the Yorkshire Dales. She is a writer of short stories,and poetry. She is attempting to be a novelist and her first effort is nearing completion.
‘No problem,’ I said and took a sip from my cup.
She glanced upwards, ‘It’s not often a man will order a mocha,’ she said, ‘they usually order espresso to look macho. Did you have cream on yours?’ I detected a slight lisp in her husky voice. As she prised the lid from her coffee cup, she stared at me through her puffy eyes; they were a strange greenish colour, pale, a bit like glass washed up on the beach.
‘No, no cream,’ I stuttered, patting my skinny stomach, ‘I must watch my waistline.’ I laughed but my laugh fell flat. She had completely ignored my quasi-joke. Now completely wrong-footed, I squeaked, ‘I have no need to prove I’m a man.’
She raised her eyebrows and turned towards the window.
The blonde women sniggered. Even the old lady had put down her book to watch my discomfort. I wiped my sweaty hands down the side of my trousers.
We were approaching Birmingham, and I went to take my case down from the luggage rack. Not having a great deal of time to catch my connection, I pushed my way towards the crush at the door ready to alight as soon as the train stopped.
‘Hey, wait for me Mr Mocha Man.’ I turned in the direction of the voice. Miss Paisley Scarf was forcing her way towards me, the bulging shopping bag jostling the crowd, eliciting complaints from those it banged into. ‘Wait for me.’
I was going to miss my connection, but what could I do?
‘Watch where you’re going, mate,’ shouted a burly man, as he almost fell over my feet, when I stopped suddenly in the middle of the throng.
I couldn’t see Miss Paisley Scarf anymore, but I could hear the indignant voices of the people she pushed over as she approached me.
‘There you are,’ she said, ‘why didn’t you wait for me?’
‘I didn’t know I had to,’ I said in my defence, ‘I’m going to miss my train.’
‘But your train is my train,’ she said, completely disingenuous.
‘How do you know that?’ I retorted.
‘Just do,’ she replied emphatically. ‘Here, take my bag.’ She thrust the doggy shopping bag into my hand. I had no option but to take hold of it. Its contents rattled.
The hands of the station clock stuttered their way around the dial.
‘Well, I’ve got to rush now, the Edinburgh train will be leaving in five minutes, and I’ve got to find the platform.’ I strode across the concourse, with my diminutive friend running to keep up with me, her red boots pitter-pattering on the concrete. ‘Are you sure you want to go to Edinburgh?’
‘Quite sure,’ she said. ‘The train leaves from Platform 4 over the bridge.’ She rewound the lilac scarf around her hair and tucked the ends into her belt. I turned to stare at her.
I was struggling now, trying to pull my wheelie-case and stop her bag from injuring my shins. Whatever was in there was very heavy and sharp.
‘Ouch,’ I cried out, as the bag contacted my leg, and a piece of sticking-out metal ripped a hole in my interview-suit trousers. I could see blood blurring the grey pinstripes. ‘What the heck have you got in that bag?’
The woman shrugged her shoulders, ‘Oh this and that, you know.’
‘No, I don’t know, and now I’m mortally wounded.’
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘we’re going to miss our train. Stop whinging about a little scratch.’ She was running ahead of me now towards the platform her scarf blowing in the backdraught made by the approaching train.
I hobbled along. As the engine snorted and glided into its place, I was aware that people were beginning to stare at me and the trail of blood spots I left in my wake. Miss Paisley Scarf grabbed my arm and dragged me into the first available carriage. She left me no option but to follow her pulling my battered case behind me and swinging the tote bag through the door. She snatched the bag as if it contained the crown jewels and slid it onto the seat beside her. The whistle blew, and the train began to move. She was sitting there tapping her red toes and humming in time with the rhythm of The Little Engine that Could. I slumped down beside her, taking out my un-ironed handkerchief and attempting to erase the blood spot from my pants.
‘Where are you going?’ I asked her, as I pretended to look out of the window.
‘The same place as you,’ she replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. The red toes continued tapping.
‘But do you know where that is?’ I retorted.
‘It doesn’t matter Mr Mocha Man; I’ll know when we get there.’
‘Well, if we’re going to the same place, perhaps I should know your name,’ I replied.
‘I’ll tell you when we arrive, it really doesn’t make any difference.’
‘It does to me!’ I hit the window frame. My voice rose fifty decibels. ‘I’ve got an interview to go to and now my suit is ruined because of your sodding bag.’ I ran my hand over my freshly primped grey hair, leaving a rusty streak. ‘I’ve been out of work for months.’
‘Tut-tut, Mr Mocha Man, calm down and be a free spirit like me.’ She waved her hand airily. ‘Something always comes up. Look, I met you today. I saw you in my stars.’
I groaned. Not only had I ruined my only interview suit, but I had met a crazy lady who seemed determined to take over my life. She tightened the scarf around her head and began to doze. I prodded her on her shoulder.
‘What were you crying about earlier?’
She opened her pale eyes and squinted at me. ‘Nothing much really,’ she replied, ‘I thought it would be interesting. I was singing as well. Free entertainment.’
‘Oh,’ I replied, ‘that’s alright then!’ I leaned my head on my clenched fist and turned to look out of the window. ‘What’s in the bag?’
‘I told you, this and that.’ She closed her eyes again.
The train pulled into Waverley station with much grinding of metal. How was I going to get rid of her? Thinking she was still asleep, I picked up my bag and tip-toed along the corridor towards the door of the carriage. I still had time to spare before the interview and I might be able to rescue my trousers.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ The familiar husky voice was now more strident. ‘I told you I was going where you were going.’ The bag was bumping along against her thigh.
I groaned and quickened my step.
‘Look, I told you I had to go for an interview. I’m going to be late,’ I lied, ‘and you can’t come with me. Go away and leave me alone.’
‘Don’t be so mean,’ she cried, ‘you know we’re meant to be.’
I spun around to face her. ‘I know nothing of the sort,’ I said. ‘I only met you today and you’ve latched yourself onto me. I didn’t ask for this.’
‘Yes, you did,’ she purred, ‘you chose a mocha coffee, and I knew you were my destiny.’
‘That’s no reason to think I’m your destiny, whatever that means,’ I said. I glanced up at the station clock.
She sat herself down on a bench and dragged me after her. Unwinding the paisley scarf from her head, she spread it over the wood, then picked up her bag and turned its contents out on the slats. Amongst the items, there was a deck of Tarot cards, a gruesome rabbit’s foot shedding fur and a velvet purse which, from the bumps, contained what seemed to be pebbles. Now I knew where the rattling had come from. There was also a silver knife, heavily embellished and spotted with what I assumed was my blood.
‘There,’ she said, ‘we’re all set now.’
‘All set for what?’ I replied, shuffling to the far end of the seat, and leaning against the arm rest.
Ignoring me, she wiped the silver knife on her tartan coat and laid it back down on the scarf. She opened the velvet bag and arranged the contents around the knife. I squinted. They were rune stones. She threw the rabbit’s foot over her shoulder where it landed on a startled fellow passenger. She moved the stones around, making patterns.
‘There,’ she said, ‘see there – that’s a man and that’s a cup of coffee. Destiny!’
‘I don’t think they had cups of coffee, especially mocha, when the rune stones were devised, and just because there are two sticks at the bottom doesn’t mean it’s a man. You could have it upside down.’ I went to stand up, but she pulled me down again.
‘I don’t make mistakes.’ She glared at me; her soft sea-glass eyes now turned to flint. ‘Come on,’ she said gathering her belongings back into the bag. ‘We’re going to be late for this interview.’
What else could I do? I followed her red boots, as she strode along the busy pavement. She seemed to know where we were going, stopping abruptly in front of an imposing sandstone building. I opened my mouth to protest.
‘In you go,’ she said, ‘you’ve got this. I’ll wait for you.’
Being sceptical, I took my interview letter out of my inside jacket pocket and carefully unfolded it; we were in the right place. I scratched my head.
Swinging around, I found her comfortably ensconced on the imposing front steps examining her scarlet fingernails. She grinned. ’My name is Violet, what’s yours Mr Mocha Man?’
‘That’s unfortunate, not what I expected Mr Mocha Man, but it’ll do. For now.
About the author
Liz lives in North Yorkshire, where she spends her time writing and gazing at the wonderful view of the Yorkshire Dales. She is a writer of short stories,and poetry. She is attempting to be a novelist and her first effort is nearing completion.
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