The 9.17 to Waterloo. The busiest non-commuter train, full of those going to London for the day. But busy doesn’t mean much, now, in the middle of the school term.
Nearest the hissing, sliding doors, the elderly couple coming ‘up to town’ for the day. She is pouring steaming tea, a stewed dark brown, into a tiny plastic flask lid. He is peering into a book about the National Gallery, obviously from about 20 years before.
On one table, two middle-aged women sit self-importantly, names of shops fill every sentence that isn’t full of disappointment, one in her son-in-law, one in her daughter, 37 and still showing no desire to marry the father of her children. Large oilskin bags take up the other two seats, apparently as important as their owners.
A young man in a suit, obviously quite new, has a leather folio in front of him which he is reading, again. A copy of the A-Z, also obviously new, sits on his lap, with a leather bookmark, emblazoned with a gold outline drawing of a castle, the name covered by the book. His lips move as he murmurs his carefully-prepared answers to questions from imaginary, terrifying interviewers.
Four teenage girls, four phones in various candy colours, trinkets dangling from them. The clatter and tap of text message after text message, with occasional gasps of surprise or shouts of laughter.
Another girl, the same age. A neon backpack at her feet, a grey phone on her lap, a copy of a magazine promising fold-out posters of various teenage supernatural creatures. The same fashions but somehow not worn as well, or at least not with the same confidence. Trying to pretend she doesn’t care about the other four, but looking over, whenever she thinks she can get away with it, with longing.
And opposite her, a boy her age, no phone, but a camera. Black clothes, ‘that’ phase. He could be asleep, for how little he is moving as he stares out of the window. Then, suddenly, movement. Whatever he sees outside is lost to the others, too caught up in their own lives, contained in the carriage. But not him. He jumps up in his seat, camera in hand, and there is click after click. The train moves on, whatever was worth photographing falls away. She is looking at him. He passes her the camera. She looks at the pictures, her eyes wide, questioning. He smiles. She smiles back, face suddenly animated, alight.
The green outside becomes grey, and then wet, and then concrete. Hello, travellers. London calling.
She hands him a piece of dog-eared lined paper as she leaves.