Running for a Train
She couldn’t believe it: she was late again. It didn’t seem to matter that she had knocked off work five minutes earlier, it didn’t seem to matter that she hadn’t even paused to change out of her new super-high boots and into her joggers before leaving the office, it didn’t seem to matter that she had taken her life into her hands dodging in and out of traffic on the rush-hour High Street. Nothing seemed to matter, it was simply a case that she was, as usual, late yet again.
She had had every intention of catching the 4.21, of making it home in time to shower and grab a bite to eat before swapping her day-job clothes for her night-job clothes. God, she hated that night-job and the tacky clothes that went with it – the pasties that left her nipples sore and itchy, the skanky G-string that was more like a bit of dental floss with a few sequins stuck on it, the ridiculous Little Bo Peep outfit that she was always called on to wear for sessions where most of the blokes were old enough to be her grandfather. But, hey, as Jake always said, ‘Money is money, Babes. Just do it, and soon we’ll be out of here.’
She sometimes wondered if he got a kick out of the whole idea of other men ogling her, of their hands reaching out and trying to touch her, of their dirty words and gross suggestions. She sometimes wondered whether other people, decent people, the sort of people she didn’t mix with, would see Jake as some sort of pimp. She supposed that that is what he was really: her pimp. He looked after all the online advertising; he made all the bookings, all the arrangements; he chose her skanky, itchy, ridiculous outfits; he drove her to the bookings; he made sure that all those notes that were shoved into her bra, her knickers, her stocking tops, between her thighs, ended up in his wallet. Yeah, he probably was a pimp. So what did that make her? God, just thinking of it made her feel sick. And now here she was, bloody late again. She wished she could just escape somehow.
As she ran through the station gates, through the turnstile, past the old magazine stand, she saw the guard up ahead, standing on the platform, looking back, watching. She knew he had seen her, had probably seen the others who were also now running for the train, waving to him, begging in their heads for just one more minute, just thirty seconds even, before he blew his whistle and stepped onboard. But he was a real bastard, that one. She knew the type so well, the self-righteous stickler with never a touch of compassion or sympathy for anybody. What did they call them on that old TV show? Ah, yes, “Jobsworths”, that was it. She chuckled to herself and picked up a bit of speed.
‘All aboard!’ He blew his whistle and stepped from the platform into the train. He looked back towards the station gates, his leathery face reflecting his scorn for the late-comers, the train-missers, those useless idiots who never managed to be anywhere on time, who spent their whole lives missing trains and planes, late for work, late for school, late for life. ‘Suffer, losers’, he felt like shouting, but he was a good guard, a company man, proud of his company cap and the golden epaulettes on his shoulders. And he, unlike them, played by the rules.
But one was still running, one of those losers who chase after trains as if chasing after a dog. It was a girl, a young girl with long glossy hair that danced frantically behind her as she ran. Her jeans were torn, not in the style of poverty but in the style of fashion, and she wore ridiculously high high-heeled boots, boots never designed for running. Her coat, multi-coloured like some latter-day Joseph’s castoff, flapped behind her, forming rainbow wings. God, how she ran, her voice calling words that he could not hear. The others — perhaps friends, perhaps strangers — fell back; she was alone.
For a moment she seemed to be gaining, not just keeping up with those final carriages, that final door, but getting closer. Then, just as it seemed she may succeed, just as she veered to her right to grab at the door handle, something happened.
They say when terrible things happen, time seems to stand still. That’s how it was. He saw — so slowly, so clearly — the heel of her left boot catch in a crack and break, saw her pitch forward. Her fall was not neat, not tidy, not recoverable; her fall was desperate, messy, a flailing of limbs, eyes huge in a face contorted with fear.
The gap between the platform and the train seemed far too narrow, it seemed impossible for her to fall there, to drop headlong between the old platform and the crushing wheels of the train. But it wasn’t, and she did.
Did those who only a few seconds ago had given up, hear a scream? Did they stop and turn around? Did the newspaper seller, in his dust-covered booth, look up and wonder why the air seemed suddenly fractured? Did the pigeons on the fading green roof stop their cooing? Did anyone notice, or care, about a young girl with glossy hair and ridiculous boots and a rainbow-coloured coat?
And what of the guard? After twenty-seven years, this was also his final journey. Waiting at the end of the line this afternoon would be good booze, good food, perhaps a strip-a-gram, like there was for Bob a couple of years earlier? Wow, that was good. Some little tart dressed up like Bo Peep, he remembered. Phew, what he could do to that, given half a chance, he thought. His hand hovered for a minute over the emergency stop button. Party or not, retirement gift or not, stripper or not, he knew he should stop the train; knew it was the right thing to do. But still, he’d spent his life doing the right thing.
He closed and locked the door. He stepped into the first-class carriage. ‘Tickets, please.’