I’d got the call at about six-thirty the previous evening; Sunday – during “Songs of Praise”. Not that I was watching it.
“How quickly can you get down to London tonight?”
“Tonight? I can’t get there tonight; the last train has gone.”
“Ok, tomorrow, then?”
“Err… maybe just after lunchtime?”
“Ok, the job’s yours. Get there as soon as you can.”
And that was it. My first job out of Uni. Mum ran around like a maniac that evening: washing, drying, ironing, packing. A blizzard of activity, looking after her chick. Early next morning, Dad took me to the train station and put me and my case onto the London train, and then I hustled him off, afraid he’d get stuck on the train too. After I’d waved him out of sight, I jolted down the carriage to find a quiet seat.
They got on at Crewe; a youth with two children. The three wandered down the carriage, looking for seats, and stopped when they came level with me. I’d never seen anyone up close dressed like that before. He was all in black, ringlets dangling in greasy strands, bum fluff on his chin – his signet ring bit into the soft white flesh of his hand. He was dressed beyond his age. He slithered a glance at me, and then muttered something to his two charges who sidled in after him. He sat opposite me. We nodded, then disengaged our eyes. He took out a battered little book and began to read, muttering silently to himself.
I can’t say when I actually realised what was happening. At, first, I thought it just chance. Then I became convinced there was an unruly dog under the table. There was a pressure on my legs, which followed my limbs about, when I tried to keep out of the way. Then I noticed his eyes. Staring, unblinking, over the rims of his thick glasses. At me.
You know those icy fingers that are talked about? Well they played up and down my spine right then. I realised the “dog” was actually his legs pressing onto mine; chasing me around, under the table. And I knew he wanted to see my reaction; see me cringe and disintegrate, right there for his delectation.
But I decided differently. I leant back in the seat and uncrossed my legs and crossed then again; quickly and very firmly, catching my stiletto on his shin.
We stared eye to eye. I uncrossed my legs again, and crossed them again. Deliberately. He winced once more and looked uncertainly at his companions. They were oblivious to his pain.
I repeated my actions, connecting again; beads of sweat appeared under the black rim of his hat. He muttered disjointedly, and got up – shepherding his party further down the carriage.
I smiled; I knew I’d be able to look after myself then.