Help (as written on the 2312 to Upper Strangwich last Friday night on the way home from Claire’s party)

Last train home always stinks of piss and passed out strangers. It’s the way it is, the way it’s been since he turned eighteen. He’s twenty three now, and he doubts it’ll ever change.

He can’t sleep. He usually did; the booze holding his belly heavy, threatening to pass down to his urinary sack, this would lull him into a snoozeful state. But not tonight. The noises keep his eyes open and stop his unsteady nerves from straying far from the edge. He drums his fingers, faster and faster, the almost silent percussion of overly-long finger nail on plastic arm rest, buzzing like an Ikea insect.

The steam rises from his slumbering, inebriated co-passengers, gathering against an innocent carriage ceiling that would, if it could, choose to be anywhere else right now. The condensation, half sweat, half alcoholic emissions, (is there space in that pie chart for thin slices of regret and disappointment?) gathers against the cold window. The outside is cleansed by the rushing of the outside world as it breathes upon a speeding human bullet.

The frustrated drum roll continues, as the wheels rattle uneasily against the track, and the inhabitants of this Friday Night shelter begin to snore. This is the cacophony that welcomes the weekend.

He huffs, loudly. Is there nothing to be grateful for? He has a seat to himself, at least, he supposes. That’s something.

Why didn’t she like him?

Help. He writes on the window. The gape within the cold, opaque square releases some of his tension. The drumming stops. He purses his lips (and tries not to wonder if perhaps the night would have gone differently if he’d shaved).

Me. He writes.
Tonight. He writes.
And runs out of window.

He leans forward and inspects the man in the seat in front of him.
Thirty something. Fat. Bald. Smells of cider. Sleeping? Yes.
He stands up and leans against the seat, the plastic contour digging against his ribs, and writes more.

It hurts. He writes.

Then he can’t reach any further. So he stands up. And angles himself over the kipping drunk. His bottom lip contorts into a shape he’d never let her see. Like the double chin he goes to great lengths to conceal.

When she doesn’t.
He writes.

And so he goes on – checking each pair of seats for anyone that might be awake and object to his newfound pastime.

Like me. He writes.
The way I like her.
I’ve always liked her.
Since I met her.
At school.
And it’s taken.
Years for her to even.
Notice me.
And now. He writes.
And now.
She’s going out with.
Our old English teacher.
Mr Bryant.

He writes.

He looks back, to the far end of the carriage, and realises that what he’s scrawled has already started to return to being nothing more than a drunken mist, collecting on a filthy train window. No one will ever read it. Understand his pain.
And he probably won’t even remember it himself.
For the best?

He returns to his seat and sulks. But before his eyes close he wonders if he could have been a poet. Probably not. His English teacher was shit.

Mr Bryant. He writes.
Is a knob. He writes.

And goes to sleep.

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David Baillie is a freelance writer and artist. Born almost thirty years ago in Scotland, he now lives and works in the East End of London.

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