Stuck in Coventry; Part Two
In the other carriage, over the woman’s shoulder, a drinks trolley manned by two women stopped.
Jack Thorne’s new friend brushed the hair away from her face, her earring danced, and she declined refreshments. Jack was amazed; he would have killed for a cup of milky coffee and any sort of chocolate.
From his seat he could see cartons of milk on the departing trolley. Like the now obscured vending machine, the refreshments cart in the other train had been sent to tempt him but it didn’t seem to matter so much now. He was more interested in his new acquaintance. He didn’t even search the trolley for M&Ms.
When the woman looked back towards Jack he made a drinking sign with one hand followed by a cut-throat gesture. He hoped it would indicate they were out of drinks on his train and she seemed to understand, giving a sympathetic look, tilting head to one side and sticking her bottom lip out a little. When she tilted her head the hair escaped, she instinctively caught it and brushed it back. Jack looked at her neck. Around it was a black necklace.
Jealous-Jack wondered if it had been a gift from a boyfriend. Surely she was too nice to be single.
She had small lips, her nose was button like but her eyes were bigger, brighter. They lit up when she smiled, the brightness accentuated by her flushed cheeks. There was something hamsterish about her – but Jack liked that.
He wondered how much further this liaison could go. He was running out of obvious symbols to keep the conversation alive. Then she pointed in the direction her train had been travelling. She followed it with the same gesture in the opposite direction. Jack didn’t understand. It was only when she mouthed the words ‘which way’ he clicked.
He pointed towards London, the way from which she had arrived. She mouthed the word ‘where’ and Jack tried to mouth London but she didn’t understand. He’d never thought about it before but it was a pretty shapeless word.
He reached into his jacket pocket bringing out an underground map and pressed it against the cold glass. She tilted her head back and opened her mouth a little indicating ‘Ahhh, I see’.
Of course Jack knew in which direction she was travelling but there were any number of routes her train could be taking. She could be from almost anywhere. He asked aloud, ‘Where are you from?’ slowly and loudly, as if talking to somebody with a poor grasp of English.
The grey-headed woman in front looked through the gap between the seats.
‘Are you talking to me?’ She sounded worried, scared Jack Thorne was a member of that much maligned group, the youth of today. He was certainly young enough although the kid across the aisle, still in I-pod world, was a more likely candidate to target the old woman if social stereotypes were anything to go by.
Jack tried to use a tone of voice which would tell her he didn’t carry a knife and wasn’t interest in the contents of her purse. He told her who he was really talking to and the old woman craned her neck to look out of the window. The brunette looked embarrassed. She brushed her hair from her face and gave a self-conscious wave to the old lady using just her fingers again.
‘She looks very nice doesn’t she?’ Jack didn’t know how to respond in a way to kill the conversation with the old lady. He wanted to talk to the girl but knew how these old dears were when they got prattling on a train.
‘Yes she does.’ He had nothing, nothing to say that could kill this blasted conversation dead
(if only I could kill her dead, no, no I don’t mean that, too harsh)
‘I’m trying to find out where she’s from,’ he blurted out. He felt so feeble. He knew he was stuck with the old woman now. He threw a glance to his new friend. She was laughing at him, covering her mouth with her hand as though stifling a burp. She seemed to understand Jack’s dilemma perfectly and was enjoying the entertainment of seeing him extricate himself from the old lady’s grasp.
Jack shrugged his shoulders in a ‘what can I do?’ motion.
She shrugged hers back before brushing her errant hair behind her ear. Jack wished again he could do that for her and hoped he wasn’t looking longingly at her.
‘Thank you!’ Jack mouthed. She gave him a thumbs up. He couldn’t help but smile.
‘Do you know her name dear?’ The old lady asked.
The subject of names was the last thing he wanted to get started on with the pensioner. Once they were down that route he would have to tell her his and he would find out hers. Once they were on a first name basis that was that, she would probably come and sit in the vacant seat next to him, much easier than craning my neck dear is what she would say. Then she would tell Jack all about her grandchildren, probably seven or eight of them. She would recall every un-funny funny thing about them from their childhoods before beaming at their adult successes.
He couldn’t listen to all of that, especially with an attractive woman just a few feet away in the opposite direction. He looked at the brunette for inspiration and found none. He only knew he wanted to continue talking to her and so, against every sense of good manners he possessed, he asked where she was from and hoped the old woman would vanish. His parents, if they weren’t tearing strips off each other, would have frowned upon their son for his treatment of the pensioner.
‘Honestly Jack,' his mother would rebuke, 'she’s right there and you’re ignoring her to talk to someone on an entirely different train,’
‘It’s because he’s a flirtaholic!’ Fiona would have shouted.
As it was, the old woman seemed to take the hint and was happy to go back to, well, whatever it was she was doing before. Perhaps staring into space imagining nice knitting patterns she could practice if she ever got home. That was the only cliché Jack could think of before he again mouthed the question, ‘Where are you from?’ to the brunette.
She obviously didn’t understand. Once again Jack reached for his underground map. He pointed to himself, then to it, indicating of course, ‘I’m from London’, before pointing to her and mouthing, ‘where’?
‘Ohhhhh,’ she mouthed, although judging by the look she attracted from the man on the opposite side of her table (she was lucky enough to have found a table seat) Jack suspected she said it aloud. The man, who wore a bowler-hat and fashioned an orange beard, then looked at Jack before returning his attention to a large newspaper with one raised eyebrow.
She pointed northwards and mouthed the name of some town or city. Without a prop to be more specific Jack was none the wiser. She tried to mouth the word more slowly but to no avail. She tried spelling the word in the air but it didn’t work until Jack had to wipe his window.
He’d been leaning so close his breath had fogged the glass. As he wiped away the condensation he saw her covering hers with hot breath. The man opposite her seemed to be annoyed, the condensation crossed onto his side of the table but he said nothing, he just threw Jack an irritated look before returning to his paper. When she had a big enough canvas, she wrote carefully;MANCHESTER
She stood a little to see over the fog and Jack smiled giving her the thumbs up. He fogged up his own window and wrote; JACK
He hoped it was big enough for her to make out. In return she wrote in the remaining condensation; LYNDSEY
Jack wiped the glass clear with his hand, Lyndsey did the same. ‘Nice to meet you’ he mouthed.’
She pointed to Jack then held up two fingers, ‘You too.’
He thought for a few moments before pressing his palms together then opening his hands, keeping his little fingers together.
It was what he and his friends had done in primary school assemblies during their first year. All of the other kids were given hymn-books but not the first-years. He and his friends would hold their hands open like books, simulating possession of the coveted items.
Of course once they progressed and realised having the books meant they had to sing hymns, they would gladly have given them away and gone back to their hands.
Jack hoped Lyndsey would understand and she did. She held up the book she had been reading before she became stranded. It was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Her bookmark was near the beginning.
Again Jack offered the thumbs up, he liked Dickens. He pointed to Lyndsey, gave a thumbs up, a thumbs down and rocked his flat hand from side to side in a ‘so-so’ motion.
She understood straight away. Pointed to how little of the book she had read and shrugged her shoulders. Jack took it to mean it was too early to tell whether she thought it was good or bad. On the other hand she might have misunderstood him and answered a totally different question making her answer meaningless.
He decided she had understood and gave his paranoia a rest.
Jack looked around. Saw the on-train magazine in the seat pocket by his knees. He held it against the window and pulled a sad face, ‘this is all I have to read.’ Again she conveyed sympathy, poking her lip out a little.
Jack thought he loved her and felt pathetic.
Pathetic or not, he wanted to continue speaking to her. She brushed her hair behind her ear. The earring danced, the green stones sparkled like her eyes.
‘Ladies and gentlemen this is your train manager Iain.’
Jack did exactly as Lyndsey had a few minutes before. He looked up at the overhead luggage rack as though Iain were really up there, nestled between the coats and bags talking directly to Jack. He was probably at the other end of the train, locked in some small cubby where the increasingly fed-up passengers couldn’t reach him.
‘Once again apologies for this delay, we are still stuck here for the time being however we are sending out for more refreshments which will be available in the shop shortly. Once again apologies for this delay and the inconvenience this may cause.’
Jack didn’t mind the inconvenience so much now. He looked back to Lyndsey.
‘You leaving?’ she mouthed. He thought he saw disappointment there before cutting the thought down. He wouldn’t allow himself to hope she was enjoying his company.
Jack shook his head in response to her question. He pointed upwards, that’s where everybody looked when the voice of the train rang out, perhaps she would get what he meant. He followed the point with a drinking gesture. Her face lit up with a smile. God he loved her.
And God he felt pathetic.
He felt like a child, falling in love at so little a thing as the brush of a woman’s hair, her flushed cheeks or wide smile. But that had been Jack’s way for as long as he could remember. He’d fallen in love at least five times a day since his fourteenth birthday.
That day it had been Elizabeth Darrow. She had given him a birthday card, a clear sign of love if ever there was one, and Jack’s heart was hers. Whether he was predestined for such crushes or whether Elizabeth opened the floodgates he didn't know; since that day it took only the slightest attention to win Jack’s heart. Lyndsey had won it the moment she waved at him in the way that she did, using just her fingers.
He wondered if she felt the same before telling himself she was just killing time. As soon as her train began moving she would open her book and poor David Copperfield would be tormented by the awful Mr Murdstone. With every rattle of the train on the tracks Lyndsey would forget Jack Thorne a little more and he would be heartbroken, at least for a while.
By the time he reached London he would just be glad to be near home. No doubt he would see an attractive woman on the tube, she might smile at him, he wasn’t unattractive, and he would fall in love all over again.
He knew the cycle, he’d travelled it a million times. Still, the thought of Lyndsey loving him was nice and he decided to indulge in the fantasy while it lasted. Pessimistic-Jack would be given a rest for the time being.
Unfortunately for Jack, indulging in the fantasy was getting hard. Contrary to Fiona’s accusations he wasn’t a good flirt, he couldn’t talk to women, which is why he rarely made contact with all the women he fell in love with every day. Now he had nothing to not say to Lyndsey. She appeared to be thinking too before she fogged up her window and wrote; Age?
He fogged his window and replied;
23 YOU ?
She brushed her hair aside, smiled, and pointed to Jack, or to the number he’d printed in the condensation. He gathered she was twenty-three also. She wiped her window clean with her left hand, optimistic-Jack noticed no rings.
A pinging sound from above caused Jack to look up.
‘Ladies and gentlemen this is Iain your train manager. We now have refreshments available. Teas, coffees, sandwiches, hot and cold snacks, confectionary, soft drinks, wines and lagers.
‘Due to the high demand a trolley service will be making its way along the train to avoid congestion in the shop carriage. Again, the trolley service will be around shortly.’
Jack looked back to Lyndsey who was waiting for the message end and for Jack to regard her again. She raised her eyebrows and mouthed ‘well?’
Jack thought for a moment. He repeated a drinking action and then simulated pushing a trolley in front of him. It was a poor signal, he always had been terrible at charades, but she seemed to understand. She gave him the thumbs up again before brushing her hair aside. She gave a deep sigh, of boredom or tiredness Jack wasn’t sure, but her cheeks swelled as the air left her perfect mouth.
Jack made a pillow of his hands, lay his head on them and closed his eyes. She waited until they were open to nod her head in agreement, she was tired. Jack knew how she felt. He wanted to sleep but didn’t want to miss a second with Lyndsey, the latest love of his life.
He wanted her to sleep so she would feel better, he wanted only good things for her, but again he didn’t want to miss a second of talking to her. If she slept that would be the end of the conversation. Of course he could just watch her sleeping and be content which he took as sure sign this love was the real thing, more real than the other five women he’d fallen in love with and forgotten during the course of the day.
A few minutes passed, Jack heard voices a few seats behind him accompanied by the rattle of snack bags and the pouring of drinks. He looked around to see the trolley service making it’s way down to him, guided by two women, a blonde and a brunette. He looked at Lyndsey to see she was looking back. He put his hands together in a prayer gesture, looked skywards; beautiful snow filled sky, and mouthed ‘Thank you’.
She smiled. He smiled back and the trolley arrived at his side.
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