People who take the train alone are usually stoned like those giant figures on Easter Island. Their looks, which aim from the promotions on high places to the landscape outside, ramble around, constantly avoiding the eyes of others. They rather spend their time reading something, listening to music or staring at their phone screen.
The train was crowded as usual. Thomas was trying to make his way through the swarm of people at the station.
When he finally sat, he looked out the window at the grey sky and grey sea. He had just arrived from London, where he was spending his last few days before starting his new job as a research assistant at Cambridge University.
He had spent the past few weeks there, finishing his degree and taking a break from school. Even though, it was time for him to return home and start work at Cambridge. He thought about how much he would miss London, especially the university campus where he had spent so much time studying and working on projects. Instead of going back straight to work, Thomas decided to take a train down to Brighton instead—he wanted to spend some time by the sea instead of being stuck inside a building all day long.
Thomas had always loved travelling by train, but now he felt even more excited about it than usual, it felt like this trip was going to be different somehow. He tried not to think too much about what kind of work he would be doing at Cambridge—after all, he didn’t know anything about research assistants yet—but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun along the way.
A blond woman in a white dress sat across from Thomas, her eyes closed as she leaned back against the window. The train was not moving, but it seemed to be stopping every few seconds like it was stuck in one place. Thomas wondered if the conductor had forgotten to hit the horn.
The train conductor made his way through the wagon, checking tickets and looking at papers. Thomas couldn’t help but stare at his uniform, it was so flaky and clean that he felt like a slob just by being near him. He stopped by the woman, who opened his eyes and showed him what looked like an old receipt for some kind of food. The conductor nodded and moved on without saying anything. When he reached Thomas, he stopped and smiled.
-Hello, can I see your ticket? He had a strong cockney accent.
Thomas nodded and held it out so that the conductor could see. The man looked at it for a moment and then glanced back up at him with a smile.
-Thank you, and have a nice trip.
He moved on without saying anything else. Thomas wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say anything back, so he just stood there awkwardly, looking down at his book, trying to distract himself from the noise of other passengers talking and laughing.
He glanced over, at the girl standing in front of him, she was reading a book but couldn’t see what it was because she had it propped up on his knees. She turned pages with her long fingers, pausing occasionally to look back at the words on the page.
Thomas had already seen this girl who had boarded the train in London, as he had. He remembered her quite well. He often saw her when he was doing research in the London library.
It was this young woman with long blond hair who had once denied him of a book he was aiming for. A recent title, published less than a month earlier, happened to be Thomas needed for his studies.
He had felt lucky when he saw it. He was about to grab it when a hand had overtaken his.
Peeved, he had turned towards the owner, discovering a young woman he fancied, and had immediately lost the desire to reproach her. Men are weak. She had not realised that she had just snatched the book he was after (and she was right to do so).
She was a student at the university, he discovered.
It was her second year, of studying English literature. Her name was Jennifer. He knew this because one evening, as she walked past him carrying a heavy pile of books that threatened to slip out of her arms, he had asked her if she needed any help, despite the total fact that he was shy.
What a twist of fate it was that she and he found themselves on the same train, face to face.
Thomas plucked up the courage and asked her.
-Hiya, I can’t stand if you remember me, but I was wondering what book you were reading.
She said she was reading Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Thomas thought this was appropriate because they were both sitting on the train and he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to get off it again. Jennifer smiled at him, as though she could read his mind. She asked him if he liked books. He told her that he did, he was quite a reader.
- So you’re into classic literature innit? He asked her.
-Yes, I love it. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about reading a book that’s over 100 years old that makes me feel connected to the past. It’s like I’m doing something important, isn’t this wonderful?
You too are wonderful for thinking that, he thought
-I like reading too, but not as much as I like writing things down. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I don’t know, maybe that sounds childish.
-No, it doesn’t sound silly at all! Jennifer exclaimed.
She was genuinely surprised and impressed by this revelation. She had never met anyone who wanted to be a writer before but she thought it was quite a dream.
-I guess I just like the idea of being able to make up stories and then put them down on paper. It’s like making little worlds that people can enter into and get lost in.
-Yes, exactly! Jennifer said.
She felt like they were on the same page now, which was nice because she didn’t know how else to explain what she meant by this.
-So, can you write something about me, like right now? Jennifer asked.
-I mean, if you have time.
-Huh, I can try. Thomas said with less insurance than a mouse in front of a cat.
Jennifer felt a bit like Cinderella at the ball or Rapunzel locked in her tower or whatever fairy tale analogy people used for situations like this because she didn’t know what else would happen now that they were together and it was all so exciting.
Thomas took his notebook and began to write down something.
-By the way, where are you heading?
Thomas asked after a while of silence between them. The question felt awkward; they’d only met once before today, but that didn’t mean they knew anything about each other’s lives or interests, either—or even if they could communicate at all.
-Wivelsfield, she said, I have to take down my stuff before going back to Cambridge.
Thomas nodded and continued writing as if he didn’t care that she was in the same town or why she was there.
-What about you ? she asked.
-I’m going to Brighton’s beach, he said, I’ve found a job at Cambridge so I’m allowing myself some time.
-Oh, that sounds nice. We might see each other at Cambridge then.
She smiled and looked down at her hands which were folded in her lap. The silence was awkward again, neither knew what else to say or do together but talk about the weather or their favourite books.
The loudspeaker announced that the next stop was hers. The train had passed Haywards without them noticing. Maybe, it was more than just a usual talk.
- I’m getting off here, she said.
- Wait, I haven’t finished your poem!
It had nothing to do with what they were talking about, but he wanted to prolong their conversation.
- A poem?, she was quite surprised that this boy she met an hour ago was writing something passionately for her, Well then, how about we finish it over coffee next time we meet in Cambridge?
- Wait? I’d love to.
The train was slowing down. She stood up and waved goodbye with her hand.
Thomas was surprised that she had said anything about next time.
They hadn’t exchanged phone numbers. Nothing.
The train stopped before he recovered from his surprise. She stepped off lightly. Instead of taking the escalator, she took the stairs, holding the book that had been the initiator of their meeting.
“Next time I see you.”
It’s Saturday. I have no plans this afternoon and she has to move her stuff.
“Next time”. Where? When? I want it now.
He suddenly felt like running after her to find out why she had spoken to him. Why she had offered him a coffee.
“We should have it now!”
He rushed out of the train, and she turned around smiling as if she had expected this ending.
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