We’d been on the train for the past three hours, one of which had been – as you put it – pens and pencils. That is, in the language of a normal person, stationary. When the conductor invited the passengers to stretch their legs on the tricky ballast, I don’t imagine he would have to coax one of the passengers off the roof of the carriage, languidly topping up an autumn sun smear dressed in dirty pumps and a ballet tutu over denim legs, one white stick bolt upright in the air from between your badly painted lips. You’d attempted to colour them like a tube of chewy sweets, but succeeded only in looking like someone who’d been intimate with the South African flag. A thin wisp of smoke rose from the burning embers as you contemplated…. something.
The defining moment of my upbringing so far has always been a scream. An outburst of disjoined jaw body horror as a disturbingly incurious lifeform bellows into the face of an elderly person. I can still remember being a teenager, clicking through the wilderness that was All New Cable TV. I paused for a moment on MTV which was promising a rundown of the Most Disturbing Music Videos ever, and for the most part it was completely tamed. Like walking around a zoo observing lions and tigers, I wanted my cerebral cortex to leap the fence and get in with the fuckers, get torn to shreds. I wanted to feel my arms and ankles being separated. I wanted to feel the balls of my sockets ripped out from their joints. I wanted to see a fierce beast eating my feet and winking at me. And all I got was a glorified petting zoo.
And then a video came on, set on a council estate. A face within an amorphous television promised malevolence. Little children ran around with the head of a bearded man who wouldn’t stop smiling. An idiot in a ponytail acted badly at being scared. And then, as the song reached the ¾ period, at the moment in movies in which genuine jeopardy is injected into the veins of the dim and distant, an old woman walks sheepishly towards the television. A figure is born from the cobweb screen, an unholy birth of bone demon, and it screams – it screams – into her face, the chords committing seppuku inside that hideously elongated neck. As the elderly person’s cheeks flapped and buzzed, I knew I was hooked.
None of this remotely interested you. Putting the cigarette out on the toe of your sneaker, you slid a hand into your jeans and started masturbating. I tried to climb down from the carriage, but I could not be quick enough, feeling my erection scrape against the roof as I tried to scramble down. The conductor was angry, but my cheeks were flushed red and I crouched forward like a man who’d taken a penalty kick to the plums, and was of no use. Even as the birds twittered in the trees we could all hear you gasping, and suddenly my plight was lit up with a thousand flashbulbs. As you moaned and wanked yourself silly on the roof, everyone looked at me – the silly boy with apple red cheeks, trying to cover the crotch of his bulbous jeans – like this was all my doing.
We pull into the station, two hours late. Everyone is fussing and fretting in an obviously loud way but you are trying to out-stare a fly that has landed on the remains of your croissant. Everyone is pissed at you. A one and a half hour delay became two as you writhed and frigged on the roof, whilst I stood to one side, desperately trying to make friends with the local countryside – oh that’s an interesting church on the horizon; oh look at those field boundaries – but no one was fooled. As soon as we get off the train, everyone scurries away like the tributaries of a broken delta. People seep into the spaces. We look up at the train times and then we allow ourselves a moment to take a photo of some tourists all clasped together with their stickered suitcases, identical in long black coats so only their heads show any hint of difference. The scarlet red head, the gold toothed beauty, the eager bespecaled nerd behind her narrow rims. They flash peace signs like Yoko triplets and we all sign their suitcases between the badges from Peru to Singapore.
Before the train stopped, you tried to guess the lives of the passengers around us. Your cynicism towards human life coupled with your inability to judge your own volume probably didn’t help later on. I’m thinking of the moment when I picked out a bald man with jowls that hung over the collar of his shirt and opined that he was maybe having an affair because he had two phones – one the latest piece of touchscreen tech and the other a relic from the days of actual buttons – and you asked loudly and rhetorically why one woman would want to have sex with him, let alone two. It was a fair, if mean, point.
You picked on one woman in particular who glared at you with thin lips and eyes that glittered like spears reflecting a battlefield winter sun. You told me she was, or had been, a ballet dancer. I saw you cock your head to one side and arrogantly proclaim ‘she wants to be me.’ I scoffed. ‘I’m serious. She was me once. And she wants to be me again.’ All this time, you maintained eye contact with this woman as if daring her to some sort of ballet stand-off, a plie in the aisle.
‘I dare you to start a fight with that man’ you said, as a young, heavily toned gentleman excused himself politely down the central aisle towards the buffet coach. I refused. ‘Why’ you asked. I told you that I didn’t want to fight him, I had no reason to fight him. You rolled your eyes and scoffed. When he came back through the carriage, he gave me a heart-meltingly winning smile full of teeth and chivalry, and all I could do was stare coldly back at him as you smirked at me.
“You’re just a selfish person; you only think about yourself” was said, as the conversation reached its logical climax. “I bet you’ve never had to care for someone.” A finger was jabbed towards my empty heart. “I bet you’ve never had to deal with someone who was suffering. “
‘No you’re right, I haven’t’, I lied.