By Laura Cao
The train was already packed when I boarded. Hot and sweaty bodies were at every corner of Carriage 12 – the air inside was damp and humid even though almost all the windows were open. Still, it was better than the 33-degree scorching heat outside. Who knew the weather in July could be this oven-like, especially as it’s England? I hurried forward, phone and ticket in one hand and a small travelling bag in the other. Thank goodness I had a sitting ticket! I would never be able to last standing for the whole journey home, which was five long and tiring hours.
Pushing past a crowd of chatting ladies, I found my seat, stuffed my bag into the overhead storage unit and plonked down on the soft fabric, giving a contented sigh. I was absolutely exhausted, having just taken a two-hour bus ride to the station and been in line for the train for what seemed like hours. Turning on my phone, I texted my best friend.
On the train! So tired, can’t wait to get home x
I watched the other passengers as we all waited for the train to leave the platform. Beside me was a burly man, most likely in his mid-forties, tucking into a huge chicken salad sandwich dripping with ketchup and what looked like mayonnaise or cheese sauce. Next to the wrapper was a large container holding a sizeable portion of rich and creamy chocolate cake. A few other passengers gave him looks of disgust but he was completely oblivious to their stares. He saw me eyeing the cake, though, and pulled it towards himself protectively.
Opposite me, separated by a small wooden foldup table, was a woman engrossed in the book she was reading. Maybe also in her mid-forties, she looked like those posh people probably still stuck in the early twentieth century, with immaculate hair tucked under a vintage hat and wearing a long floral dress. Next to her sat an elderly man with snowy hair and soft wrinkled skin. He was asleep and snoring softly, head leaning against the window.
I leaned back on my seat, closing my eyes. I was finally going home for the holidays. Being a first year student at university money didn’t come very easily so I was forced to work the night shift at a local diner – a job I will be ecstatic to quit. It was tiring work and had a meagre salary.
“Sorry! Sorry, excuse me. Sorry, sorry.” I opened my eyes to see a blustering woman stumbling down the aisle of the carriage. With two big suitcases by her side, a handbag and a cup of coffee, she was bumping into every possible person she could while apologizing profusely.
Bloody hell, I thought to myself. What a klutz.
“Pillock,” Sandwich Guy mumbled beside me while chewing vigorously, globs of god-knows-what-sauce dribbling down from the corners of him mouth. I was confused as to what he meant so I did a quick search on Google: Pillock – a stupid person.
How mean. But also true.
The carriage doors closed and the train lurched suddenly. Pillock stumbled forwards and some of her steaming coffee spilt onto the table in from of me and leaked over onto my phone. I pulled it back in horror.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry!” She exclaimed. She tried to dab the coffee from the table and my phone but backed away when I gave her a dirty stare – a warning to stay away. Fumbling through the back pocket of my jeans I managed to find a piece of clean tissue and began scrubbing furiously. Those kind of people irritated me a lot – the ones who were unorganised and unprepared and caused trouble for other people. I glanced at Pillock again. She was trying to lift both her suitcases up to the overhead storage, grunting and gasping as she pushed them inside. No one was making any move to help her – everyone was probably still huffy about their toes being squashed flat under the weight of her luggage.
After her cases eventually made it into storage, she gave a sigh of relief, took a look at her ticket and stood still for the first time after boarding the train. The intercom then sounded, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard Chiltern Railways. Please have your tickets ready for our ticket attendants who will be coming over to check them shortly. Have a great journey and thank you for travelling with Chiltern Railways.”
Ticket in hand, I waited for the attendant to reach Carriage 12. A soft buzz of conversation spread throughout the second-class coach as everyone scrabbled around for their own tickets. The Elderly Man was also awake and was searching feebly for his own ticket. He gave weak grunts here and there as he did so, prompting Twentieth Century Woman to offer her assistance, which he gladly accepted. Sandwich Guy was now tucking into his massive slab of cake, giving me suspicious glances once every now and then.
There was a hushed, indistinct murmur from everyone as the ticketing attendant arrived. I wanted to be over with it as soon as possible – I was very tired and sleepy and I could fall asleep as soon as I closed my eyes. Hopefully Pillock or Sandwich Guy wouldn’t interrupt me. Elderly Man fell asleep again and Twentieth Century Woman’s head was stuck back into her book. I looked up at Pillock, sandwiched between a young woman and a tall framed man, both who had their backs to her. She shifted from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable. I felt a bit sorry for her since her suitcases did all look really heavy.
“Ma’am, can I see your ticket please?” Pillock turned around to face the ticket attendant. “Oh yes, here.” The attendant took a look. “Ma’am, do you know you have a sitting ticket? 29H…” That was where Elderly Man was sitting.
“Oh yes,” Pillock replied. She lowered her voice a bit. “I just thought that the old man looked very tired, he probably won’t be able to stand the whole way so I let him sleep there. It’s okay, I can stand. Healthy as a horse, I am.” The attendant smiled and moved on. Twentieth Century Woman handed in her ticket swiftly without even looking up from her book. Elderly Man woke up and gave his too.
“I have a standing ticket,” he told the attendant in a gentle, wheezy voice. “I’m just sitting here to rest for a moment, when the person comes I’ll give the seat to them.”
I gave mine and Sandwich Guy also handed in his chocolate-and-ketchup-stained ticket.
I was surprised, frankly. About Pillock, I mean. I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover right? What made me feel so guilty is that I myself probably wouldn’t have given that old man my seat – I would’ve just thought about my own needs.
I nudged Pillock. “Hey,” I smiled, “if you get too tired you can sit here for a while.” She looked surprised. “Oh no dear, that’s fine,” she said, chuckling. I stood up. “No, I insist.”
She beamed at me broadly and sat down. We introduced ourselves and started chatting.
Meanwhile Sandwich Man rummaged through his travel bag, took out a bumper pack of crisps and started munching. The noise of his loud, crunching chewing and appreciative murmuring filled the whole of Carriage 12.