This post was inspired by the picture to the left, which came from a random image generator at www.writingexercises.co.uk It’s the second piece that I’ve written – you can find the first, called The Ticket, here.
It was with a start that Craig woke up. His head jerked backwards, banging against the tiled alcove. He opened his bleary eyes, the twin adverts in front of him merging until proper vision had been restored. He looked around, the box of chicken and chips still in the flimsy white carrier bag on the bench beside him.
Leaning forward he looked up at the train announcement screen to see when the next tube was due, but was surprised to see that it was blank. Craig pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket to check the time – 01:27. The last train must have been and gone.
He stood up abruptly, walking to the front of the platform, his attention momentarily distracted by a small rat climbing in the channel that ran behind the rails. There was no noise, no rush of air through the tunnels, no sign of life.
Craig walked out into the hallway, running across to the southbound platform to find it similarly deserted. He shouted “hello” a couple of times, but the only voice he heard in response was his own echoing back to him. He looked at the stopped escalator, grimacing at the steps’ gradient, his eyes tracking up the to the top. He went back to collect his chicken and chips before starting the journey upwards.
Normally, during he’d have bounded up during rush hour, elbows out to make sure he had enough space to get through. But even though he seemed to be in a tube station on his own, there was no sense of urgency as he wheezed and struggled up.
When he got to the top he walked past the adverts for pantomimes and underwear, perfume and video games to enter the ticket hall. The barriers were open but the exits were shuttered, the blind down at the ticket office window and the lights switched off behind. He checked his phone again and on seeing that he had no signal, waved it around to see if he could reach someone. He hit dial a couple of times, but his phone wouldn’t connect.
“It’s no use, you won’t get anywhere,” said a voice to his left. He wasn’t sure how he’d missed her earlier. She was wearing a long brown coat, her tight-covered legs crossed at the ankle, wearing a pair of sturdy shoes. “I was going to ask if you’re hungry, but I see you have food with you.”
He grinned sheepishly, looking down at the bag. He pulled the box out. “Mind if I…?”
“No no, go ahead.”
“No, it’s okay, really.”
As he sat eating the chicken and chips, occasionally licking the grease off his fingers, they talked. She told him how she’d come to be stranded at the tube station (she had fallen asleep reading on a separate platform – “the countdown was only 8 minutes when I sat down – I don’t know what came over me”), he talked about the Christmas party he was coming home from when the evening’s alcohol consumption must have overcome him. He asked what she was reading, and she showed him a collection of work by Somerset Maugham she’d been given (“It was a present last Christmas – short stories can be so hard to read sometimes, don’t you think?”).
With a sigh he finished eating, carefully put the rubbish into the bag before using the complimentary handwipe.
“Fancy desert?” she asked.
“Why, what have you got?”
She pulled a decorate it yourself gingerbread house out of a canvas bag, and they each kneeled down on the floor and unpacked the tubes of icing and Smarties to slot the pieces together on the bench. After it was finished, she asked him which bit he wanted first.
“No, it was your Secret Santa, you have the first go.”
She smiled at him, before attempting a karate chop on the roof, that had no impact, then breaking part of the wall off with her hands, passing him the rest of the structure so he could break a piece off.
As they munched away at the broken house, he looked down at her book. “Any good?”
“It’s alright, I suppose. Shall I read you some?”
He nodded, leaning back as she flicked through the pages. “Here, you’ll like this one.”
She started reading, the story starting off by describing the privileged life of a Jewish member of high society and his troubled relationship with the rest of his family. He smiled at the old-fashioned nature of the tale, his eyes closing, before gently drifting off to sleep again.
* * *
The following morning he woke to the sound of the shutters being opened. He looked to his die, and found he was alone on the bench. “But the girl,” he said. “There was a girl here!”
The station attendant looked round. “Nah, mate, looks like it’s just you.”
Craig stood up to leave, and then noticed the Somerset Maugham book on the bench besides him, next to some gingerbread crumbs. He smiled, picked it up and with a smile on his face as he descended back into the tube station, amazed that she had given him an email address. He wondered if he had time to go home and shower before the day’s work, time to drop her a line.