Friday, May 28, 2010

on the train to Hackney

The man on the train to Hackney wears a cheap duffel coat, red chequered shirt and blue jeans. He slouches in his seat, slumping across the gangway to the seats opposite. His slouch occupies a lot of space. One hand fiddles with a tatty canvas bag on the seat beside him while the other flicks through his phone. He calls someone. His African-accented voice sounds slow, tired. He moves his other hand to rest on his lap.


“Do you not have my number on your phone anymore?”

“Hello? I said, do you not have my number on your phone anymore?”

“I met you in Richmond, don’t you remember?”

“In the morning. Yeah.”

“Yeah that's right,”

“Are you sure?”

“Are you sure you don’t remember”

“You used to have my number on your phone.”

“Are you sleeping?”

“You sound tired.”

“Where do you live?”

“I’ve forgotten”

“Croydon? Oh, East Croydon.”

“Do you remember my name?”

“Sanya. Sanya. S-A-N-Y-A.”

“I’ll give you a call back.”

“Should I be expecting your call?”

“I might call you later.”


Across from him, on a seat opposite, I try to scribble down his conversation. As I do so, as nonchalantly as possible, I steal glances at him. I wonder if he is wondering, "what is that man writing?" Next to him sits a very buttoned up middle-aged woman. She sits up straight. Her heavily made-up face doesn’t even twitch. I swap my glance to look at her. She seems as though air is holding her upright. A tiny, tinny cross hangs around her neck.

Next to me a woman is flicking rapidly through a make-up and surgery magazine. I look back at the puffed-up lady in front of me.

“Everybody’s judging,” I scribble.

The man is still flicking through his phone. He alights on a number and puts the phone to his ear. I sit poised, listening.

“Hello Ilts. How are you, it's Sanya, everything’s fine. Just calling to say hi. Anyway hope you’re well. Bye.”

I realise he’s been talking to an answerphone. As he clicks shut his phone, our eyes meet for a moment. I turn the page of the notebook rapidly. He is in grabbing range of it. I picture him snatching it and reading it out to the crowded train. I have deliberately made my scribbles hard to read, but not illegible. I put the notebook in my pocket and pat the flap of the pocket down.

I feel like I am stealing from this man. I am a thief, operating in full view of everyone. I get my notebook out again to write that down.

As I get off the train, I think to myself: “Of all the things in the world, is this what you want to write about?”