Her lips were red, a slash across the paleness of her face. The 8.15 was made bearable by her presence. She sat in the same corner seat, he figured she boarded the train way down the line because there was never a seat left by the time he got on. She never read a book, played with her phone or looked out of the window. Calm, unruffled but mesmerising. He tried not to stare, he really did, but her stillness drew him in and if she realised he was staring it was never acknowledged. Her hands lay motionless in her lap, it was almost a meditative pose. The morning ruckus of people squeezing along the aisles looking for vacant seats, the constant train announcements, the interminable beat from headphones all around the carriage didn’t cause her to stir.
She made his journey seem shorter lost as he was in her aura of tranquillity. If anyone had asked him to describe her he would have no idea what colour her eyes were for she never looked up. Her hair, the shade of a fresh chestnut, had a fringe that shielded much of her face apart from those lips. Oddly he never imagined kissing her. His fantasies didn’t stray along that route, he imagined sitting alongside her, inhaling her perfume, listening to her breathe but he had no desire to smudge the red lipstick.
Every day this scene played out, she in the corner seat, he leaning against the luggage rack. She calm, still, mesmeric. He in thrall, content with observing.
Then she was gone.
In the following days the 8.15 became unbearable, the noise bothersome, the smell insidious, the clamour, complaining and general mayhem caused him to take stock. Her disappearance from his daily routine created a void, his life seemed to unpick itself, his job felt pointless, stifling. It was time for a change.
He spent all weekend composing his resignation letter, in the end only saying he wanted a new challenge. A safe but dull reason for throwing his career away, a career 20 years in the making but the time was right. On Monday morning he boarded the 8.15 for the last time, her seat occupied by a sweaty man in an ill-fitting suit eating a takeaway breakfast while jabbing his greasy finger on his phone. Yes, the time was definitely right, he couldn’t keep doing this.
Marlene brought him coffee and a pile of already opened mail, reminding him he had three meetings and a video conferencing call and he should be available at 1 o’clock to meet with Mr Benson and the new director of finance. The day dragged by, his resignation letter firmly tucked in his inside pocket. He’d give it to old Benson at 1 o’clock, if the new director was there he could avoid the inevitable interrogation. He’d climbed the corporate ladder, two rungs at a time on occasion. The brass plaque on his desk said ‘Finance Manager’, at 37 he was the youngest they’d ever had but there were new horizons to explore before he reached the big 40.
He straightened his tie and rode the lift to the top floor, they’d laid on a light lunch with tea in china cups and slate servers with tiny sandwiches and miniature cakes. The various office managers stood around, exchanging pleasantries, moaning about workloads and sharing general office chatter while they waited.
Marlene put her head around the door to say they were on their way, he slipped his hand into his pocket as Benson walked in and held the door open. The letter stayed where it was.
She has brown eyes.
Her eyes are brown.
© Nita Lewsey 2019