Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Lesson in Bastards and Choices

Mark only just slipped through the doors of the last train home as they were closing, the tired station attendant giving him a lacklustre glare that betrayed how little he really cared by this time of night. He took the seat closest to him and sighed in relief at the fact that he’d actually made it in time. He’d been out drinking with a couple of friends that lived in London and hadn’t realised how late it had become. He felt pretty drunk and a bit sick. He’d had to run a lot of the way to the station.

He looked around at who else was onboard with him. There were only two other passengers in the carriage, two men, obviously pissed and talking very loudly.

“Nah mate, I don’t give a fuck, y’know?” said one of them. Mark leaned his head slightly to the side so he could see them through the middle of the seats in front. The one who had just spoken was wearing khaki shorts and a white polo shirt and was simultaneously drinking from a can of Stella and swinging from the handrail. “I don’t care what they’ve been saying, they’re all just a bunch of cunts anyway.” He laughed and after a few seconds the other man joined in. This one had a skinhead.

Mark leaned back in his chair so he couldn’t see them anymore. They looked like a couple of right bastards he thought. He tried to block out their conversation but it was so loud he couldn’t help listening in. It didn’t seem to make any sense though. It had suddenly become a lot more aggressive. All he could work out was that someone had been “fucking over” polo shirt and that polo shirt, and possibly even skinhead, was going to “kick their fuckin’ heads in if they keep doing that shit”.

They continued with this conversation until the train reached its first stop.

Mark wasn’t paying much attention but he vaguely heard the doors open and polo shirt say to his friend “hey, watch this”. He only looked up at what was going on when he heard a third voice:

“Excuse me… please,” gasped the short middle-aged man who was trying to get on the train. He was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase and it looked like he’d almost missed the train as well from how much he was panting. He had one foot raised in mid-air to step onboard but he’d come across a problem.

Polo shirt was standing right in the middle of the open doors.

“You’re not getting on this train mate,” he said casually. Skinhead was brazenly laughing behind him.

The little man couldn’t understand what was happening but it was too late and he dropped his foot down on to the train anyway.

“I’m sorry?” he said, a look of unease suddenly clouding his face.

Skinhead was still laughing, encouraging Polo shirt who now became serious. He leaned down, getting closer to the little man’s face.
“If you get on this train,” he said, carefully pacing his words out with overly dramatic precision. “I’m going to fucking hurt you.” He stared right into his eyes.

The little man looked terrified and very slowly began to pull his leg back from the floor of the train.

It was at this point that Mark stood up. He’d watched the whole thing from between the seats and was sickened at what he’d seen. The fact that he knew these guys were only doing this for a joke made it even worse. This was the last train of the night. That little guy in the suit probably had a family waiting for him. And these two pricks were willing to leave him stranded. Well, Mark knew he had to do something.

“Hey, guys, come on, this is the last train,” he said in a daring moment of unthinking, drunken courage that disappeared as quickly as it had come.

He’d stood up without really realising it and now he was shitting himself.

There was a brief moment of horrendous, aching silence as all three faces looked at him before polo shirt moved to the side and in a parody of courteousness waved the little man on to the train. The man scurried off up to the far, far end of the carriage.
The doors closed and the train was moving again.

Mark was still standing and polo shirt and skinhead were still looking at him. He didn’t know what to do. Polo shirt looked at him and laughed and then turned to skinhead. They laughed together and Mark sat down. He knew it was over.

The two men got off at the next stop and the stop after that was his own. He walked home feeling proud of himself, knowing that he had done a trivial yet great thing.

Only this didn’t actually happen. Mark hadn’t done a great thing at all. He’d sat quietly watching as the doors had closed in the little man’s horrified face. Then polo shirt had turned around and their eyes had met through Mark’s peephole between the seats. Polo shirt had challenged him with a moronic grin and Mark had lowered his eyes.

Mark didn’t save the day, and he didn’t stand up for what he thought was right. He was too scared over getting a kicking or suffering the same fate as the guy in the suit and getting thrown off the last train. He felt like a coward as he walked home.

And that’s what’s so good about writing a short story. You get to make a fictional character responsible for not doing what you know you should have done.

Joe Roche

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