The morning sun was warming the platform where Steve stood. On the wall behind him the name of the station was positively glowing. Black letters on a white background. A name that contained all of the special characters used by the local language which rendered it comprehensively unpronounceable. Lucky for Steve he did not have to pronounce it, he merely lived nearby and this was the train station he used. The trains thankfully had numbers of which he could read. And when his number train came along, he boarded it.
Steve had come to this beautiful country to teach English. One of the many former Communist countries who had in recent years joined the European Union. With this newfound freedom came opportunity. The opportunity of the locals to try their hand at capitalism. And the converse opportunity of the Western capitalist to exploit the locals. Steve was one such capitalist. He made a living charging the locals for his marginally effective English lessons. Today Steve was headed to the capital to teach his more affluent students.
At the very next stop his quiet cabin was unexpectedly filled. There were three passengers; an old man in well worn workman's coveralls, a sullen teenage boy who wore mostly black and grey, and the most beautiful woman Steve had ever seen.
This woman wore a dark blue jacket and matching skirt. Her unblemished skin was offset by a cream colored blouse. Around her neck she wore a simple silver chain that draped off her collarbones. Her mid length blonde hair hung in ringlets perfectly framing her face. But what drew Steve in most, was her sparkling sky blue eyes that seemed to smile. She was stunning.
The old man almost collapsed into a seat nearest the door and promptly fell asleep. The teenage boy slumped into the seat across from the old man. He put in his earphones, turned up the music and closed his eyes. Having no other choice the woman sat across from Steve near the window. She looked out the window for a minute or so then pulled a book from her bag. As she opened up the book she glanced up at Steve. She met his eye, then dropped her gaze to the open page.
Was that a hint of a smile, Steve thought. Was she impressed or attracted by my appearance, he wondered. Steve had always fancied himself a handsome and charming man. Even as a child his mother had always told him so. Steve made it a point to always be fashionably dressed and he took special care with his mustache. And today was no exception. He and his mustache were impeccably groomed. Then and there Steve made up his mind to speak to her. To flirt with her perhaps.
Steve’s next thought was the trouble, what to say. Firstly he wondered if she even spoke English. His grasp of the local language was not up to the delicacies of flirting. Would she possess a firm grasp of English, he wondered. But beyond that, what would he say to her? How would he begin? Would he simply ask her name? Would that seem too simple?
Steve attempted to move so that he could see the title of the book she was reading. This might give him some sort of inspiration. This inspiration would be predicated on if he had read the book or even simply recognized the author. But he found that he could not slouch in his seat too far without touching her knee. The furthest he could go did not allow for him to read the title of the book either. So he gave up and pulled himself up in his seat.
An announcer called out the name of the next train stop. This was the last hamlet before the train entered the capitol. Then it came to him, he could ask her where she was from. As he opened his mouth to do so he had the fear that this might come across as creepy, so he closed his mouth with a snap. What could he say, he thought. What should he say, he thought next. Miles and minutes were slipping away and he still had said nothing. All the while fearing the way his words would be heard.
The verdant farmland and scattered copse of trees were beginning to slowly give way to suburbs. Spurred on by the thought of more railway platforms and the idea that she might escape without him ever knowing her name, Steve began to panic. Think of something clever, he thought. But no clever words came to him. Or any other words for that matter. Clever was not a word that most people used when they described Steve.
Apartment blocks began to appear as well as the cold grey buildings of the industrial quarter. The announcer read out the name of the first stop on this side of the capitol in her usual cheerful voice. Moments later the train began to slow. Will she get off at this stop, he thought. The old man, roused by the announcer, began to gather up his belongings. The woman glanced out the window and suddenly stowed her book back into her bag. She was getting off at this stop, Steve thought. It was now or never!
As the train pulled into the station and came to a halt, his mind was all aflutter. What would he say? What could he say? The feeling that she could be gone and he would never know her name made Steve sick to his stomach. But as she rose from the bench she gave him one last glance. Was that a hint of a smile, he wondered for the last time. He watched her walk to the door, out of his life forever. At the door she suddenly turned and spoke.
“Sir,” she said in accented English, “you have something…”. As she said this she raised a delicate hand and indicated her nose.
In shame and not a small amount of embarrassment Steve turned away. The cabin window, now covered by the shadow of the train platform awning, made a faint mirror. There in his perfectly groomed mustache hung a booger.