Just One Hour
Why he sat next to me I’ll never know. I don’t think he did either. It doesn’t really matter I suppose because for whatever reason he did sit there and then things changed.
I smiled as he sat, out of politeness and nothing more, and he smiled back.
He had a nice smile, as though you were the only person in the world when it was aimed at you, his eyes gave a similar feeling.
Maybe that’s why we began to talk. He made me feel like the only other person on the train and that made me special. It meant we had something in common immediately and didn’t have to chit chat to find something to share.
Of course there were other people on the train. It wasn’t particularly busy, which is why I could never fathom why he sat at my table, but for that short time, we were the only ones heading down into London on the 10:37 direct line.
First he asked if the newspaper on the table was mine. I told him no. It had been left behind before I got there, so much for the litter death squads that patrol the aisles I thought.
He took it and perused the front page before telling me he couldn’t travel without reading. He couldn’t sleep and couldn’t sit doing nothing and so he needed somebody to talk to or something to read. I felt the same and to indicate I held up the book in my lap
To Kill A Mockingbird
My favourite novel.
He smiled. He’d read it as a kid but not since.
Why was I going to London? he asked.
Visiting a friend I told him. She’d just left her husband and I questioned out loud whether marriage was really worth it. He smiled that smile and shrugged his shoulders.
Why was he going? I asked.
Visiting his father he told me, in prison.
I didn’t smile. I didn’t frown either. I didn’t know how to respond. He smiled that smile again, not opening his mouth too wide but just enough to see his teeth.
It seemed he got that response a lot and before I had a chance to feel uncomfortable he told me his father’s offence.
Manslaughter. A house of his caught fire because of poor wiring killing the tenants.
How awful I said, not sure whether I meant for the tenants or his father.
Well, he said, it was hard at first but his father had gotten used to prison. He never could have lived with himself if he’d been let off.
It seemed strange to hear of somebody accepting responsibility for their actions and in spite of the morbid circumstances it made me feel quite nice. For a moment I saw a sparkle of humanity.
As my mind wandered I could feel his eyes upon me. Not in a bad way though. It’s difficult to explain. I could feel him looking at me but I didn’t want to look up, because I didn’t want him to stop. I liked him looking at me.
Of course eventually I had to look up and when I did he smiled and laughed a little before telling me he’d never told anybody that before he even knew their name. I smiled and then realised he was asking!
I told him it was Anna and he smiled, held out his hand across the table, and said his name was Matt.
I took his hand and shook it, perhaps a little timidly. It was a perfect size. Not so small as to be fragile but not too big either. It covered my hand and all of a sudden I felt safe, for the first time in the longest of times.
It sounds corny to tell I know. It seems corny to me as I read this back but it’s the way it happened and the way I felt so that’s how it must be told.
Well we began to chit chat but it was like no chit chat I’d ever chit chatted before.
I wanted to know more, I wanted to know it all and my mind didn’t even have time to stop me and question what was going on here.
I asked and he answered and he asked and I answered without reservation. That feeling in my gut, the one that tells me to hold back, was gone. There was nothing he couldn’t ask and nothing I wouldn’t tell.
It must have been his smile, or his large brown eyes. I’ve never been good with strangers. That’s my real reason for reading on trains and planes. I rarely read properly I just skim the pages, keeping my eyes down so as not to meet another’s. Mocking Bird was perfect for this because I knew it so well.
Why I looked up at his eyes I have no idea but as soon as I did, the book became obsolete.
Neither of us had ever been married although he’d been close once. He told me of his college girlfriend who died suddenly in an accident. He didn’t break down or anything but for a moment or two he stared out of the window into space, lost in his memories.
He was brought back by the sudden flash of a tunnel. He smiled, a little feebly this time and a little forced but it was this smile out of all the others that revealed his soul to me and it both elated and broke my heart.
For the briefest of moments I felt his pain and his loss and I could say nothing. I knew there was nothing I could say to make it better and so I reached across the table and placed my hand over his.
Now my hand was smaller than his and barely covered it, but I hoped he felt as safe then as I did when his covered mine. He didn’t say anything. He just nodded and looked out of the window, perhaps searching for answers as to why life was so cruel.
I gently squeezed his hand and then removed mine. He looked and smiled and then apologised.
What for? I demanded before telling him never to be sorry for that.
Some people get uncomfortable he said which would generally have been true about me, but not this time. This time I felt perfectly comfortable, just sad that he had to carry that burden alone. I didn’t tell him that because I thought it would sound odd. Writing it now sounds odd, I think you’ll agree.
Instead I told him it didn’t make me uncomfortable, I just didn’t like seeing him upset.
As soon as I said it I knew that sounded odd too. We’d known each other less than an hour.
He just smiled that smile and forced away any worry I had.
You’ve never been close again? I asked
Never he said. Nobody had reached into him as she had and so he’d never considered marriage since.
I envied her and felt awful for doing so.
He didn’t rule it out. He said if the right person came along then he would be happy to marry. Then he looked at me in that way again, in a way I didn’t want to stop. I said nothing this time and just looked into his eyes as he did mine.
I felt so connected right then, as though we were thinking the same thing and there was no table or even air between us. He was the same as me and I was happy to share myself with all of him.
Our hold was broken by an intrusive tone followed by an announcement from our train manager. We had arrived in London, the train terminated here and passengers should be careful to take all of our personal belongings with us.
I was baffled for a moment as to where my belongings were and I remembered I’d stowed them over head. I stood quickly to retrieve them and looked back down to him. His eyes had followed me and he smiled. I smiled back, composed again.
We were going in different directions from there and parting seemed so hard, so cruel and awful. He invited me to get a drink and some lunch with him but I declined. Now I was in London I felt obliged to check on my friend, to rush to her aid in her time of need.
That’s ok he said smiling, understanding, another time perhaps?
Definitely! I said wishing that other time could be this time.
How about tomorrow? He enquired. He would be staying in the city until tomorrow evening and we could get some lunch before he headed home. Well by then I would have seen my friend and done my duty and so tomorrow would be fine.
We hugged then, outside Euston Station in the cold winter air. To me the air was perfect, the grey sky was perfect and the bustle of the city was music to my ears.
We parted then and for a while I felt safe, as though still in his arms. I couldn’t wait to see my friend to tell her about my journey. Of course I would be sensitive, it wouldn’t be right to brag about meeting somebody after she’d lost somebody but I had to tell somebody otherwise I would burst!
I did tell her. And as expected she seemed a little bitter. What did I know about this man? She demanded. He could be anybody, he could be crazy or full of crap. His father is in prison for Gods sake.
I did my best to defend him and I did defend him, but she had planted the seeds of doubt in my mind.
As I lay in bed that night my mind seemed to reassert itself and repeat the questions she so cruelly posed. I had no answers, none that didn’t sound feeble and childish and at some point in the middle of the night I turned on the bedside lamp and took up my favourite novel.
Between the two of them, my mind and my friend, I decided by mid morning not to go and meet him for lunch. As the time came around I felt sick and sad and angry at them and myself and so sorry for him, standing and waiting, not knowing I wouldn’t be there.
The time passed and soon it was evening.
Now they became my friends once more, telling me I did the right thing. After a while I believed them. It’s difficult not to believe your own mind when it pesters you into defeated acquiescence.
The week passed and I thought of him often. I didn’t speak of him again and soon it was time to go home.
I went to Euston alone and found myself at that spot, at our spot. I felt his hand on mine and then his arms around me. I wanted to feel safe again but he wasn’t there.
I boarded my train and began to flick my eyes over my book. I looked up a hundred times at the seat across the table but still he wasn’t there. And he never was again.
I’ve ridden that train many times since. I’ve stood on our spot and felt safe in his arms for the briefest of moments. I see his smile every day and go over the time we had together.
I see my friend every day deterring me and I loath her.
I see him, standing and waiting and then more than anything I loath myself for what I did. I miss him every day and I miss what we had. It was only an hour, I tell myself, but it doesn’t help.
As I sit and write this the pain feels as fresh as ever and I’m scared it always will. Does it ever get better? I know it’s silly to feel I’ve lost somebody, considering we only had and hour, but we could have had so much more.
Now my eyes flick over the pages of my favourite novel and I long to feel safe by the touch of his hand. I long to see his smile and it breaks my heart every day to know I never will again.
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