Sunday, 7 December 2008

Ladies Dancing

I had to do it. For so long I had been striving to screw my courage to the sticking place. Every day, the same journey, the same people, the same old same old. Schlepping in, another load of bullshit and bollocks, bad head and dry mouth, to endure a day of it from the usual suspects before struggling through the arseholes to get the 17.26 back home. But then, it all began to be worthwhile, all became enlivened with her presence.

The first time, she was little more than another face in the crowd. It was Easter - or something - a school holiday in any case, and there were fewer people on the train than usual. This meant that she sat opposite me. We exchanged glances - nothing more, but I was sure I detected a smile. After that, I started to see her every evening, more or less. We never spoke, but those half-smiles seemed to become more frequent, and there was the occasional frisson of an almost-touch from time to time.

I don't know where she gets off on the way home, because she always stays on the train after I leave. I could see no ring on her finger, though the curse of engagement seems often to infect girls of her age and type. There was surely no Crispin or Dave waiting at the wine bar or pub to meet her, no Roderick or Gal waiting in the kitchen with an apron on or sitting on the sofa with a can of Stella and a tin of Pringles. She was available, it seemed.

And she was sweet. Her hair was scraped back - set off by classy earrings; her blouses were crisp and neatly pressed; her skirts black and pencilled; her shoes shiny and pointed; and her perfume aromatic. She read the Lite mostly, but would sometimes flick through OK, and sometimes I would see those hazel eyes flick over the top of the page at me. Some nights, I would not see her - no doubt at dentist or nail bar, or running errands for her frail mother, and I started to grow more anxious that I was allowing an opportunity to slip away.

After a while, I could stand no more of it. I usually pick up the London Paper at the station - it occupies the hands and eyes if not the brain - and became a fan of the little section on the dating page - lovestruck, I think it's called. At first, it was all about laughing at the saddos who send in these pathetic messages:

Central line, 9am on Wednesday. To the fantastically gorgeous brunette I was squashed next to. You got off at Marble Arch. Eye contact and smiles are not enough! Drink? Guy with red and white bag

I ask you! But then, after a while, I started to wonder. Maybe my beauty was one of these people, and here I was being so cruel and unkind to her. Perhaps she was declaring her love for me under cover of these anonymous billet doux. So I started to read them with more care and attention, hungrily devouring every one which involved my service or stations, or which might possibly describe 'my' girl.

And then it struck me. I was missing a trick, because I was reading the wrong bloody paper! I had to switch to the Lite just to ensure that I was capturing all possible angles. Then I noticed that she would sometimes switch to the London Paper and so was forced to grab a copy of each one from the distributors on the way into the station, hungrily devouring the love texts every night before settling into the serious matter of who was drunk at China White last night. Holidays were a nightmare, in the same way that someone who runs the same numbers on the Lottery every week, because I feared I might have missed the crucial one. And the internet provided only the LP messages, not the Lite ones. Yet nothing concrete happened, and the weeks drifted by.

At last, I grasped the nettle of destiny in both hands. Trembling with anticipation, I started to type my text:

To the lovely lady on the 17.26 from Waterloo. You are my world, the essence of my being. Without you, I am the sky without stars. The guy with the Head bag. Drink?

I swallowed hard, but pressed send before I could think too deeply about it, and felt my heart race as I imagined the electronic pulses winging their way through the ether. It was done, and now there could be no turning back.

But the next day, I hesitated after grabbing my papers and moving to one side of the streaming masses to read the Lovestruck messages. There it was! Proudly displayed in the dating sections of both. And there, over my shoulder, was my Head bag. She would know it was me, without a doubt. What if she thought I was an idiot, and went on to laugh at me with all of her friends on Facebook. How could I have been so stupid? I turned around and headed up the Strand for a drink, so that I could avoid the train she would be on. I wouldn't be home in time for The Simpsons, but it didn't matter. My burning cheeks made me stay in there for over an hour, and I knew that life would never be the same again.

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