Thursday, 19 March 2015

Fiction - 'The Quiet Coach'

The quiet coach. A man with a few wrinkles under his tan is reading a book. It's from his book case; it belonged to his dad. The pages are yellow - it's long out of print now. It's a book he's been meaning to read since 1979 but so far hasn't got round to it.

But today he has booked his tickets in advance, to be here, on the quiet coach while he travels from London Paddington to Reading. These 30 minutes of the journey is a sacred space for him to read the damned book which his dad told him to read ages ago, but he's long since been dead, leaving behind the nagging feeling at the back of his mind, telling him that he should get on with his promise. (The voice sounds much like his wife - nagging, nagging...) He has good intentions; he wants to read it. But things always come up and distract him; life gets in the way every time he tries to sit down and read that bloody book.

He's been secretly rejoicing in the fact that no one has taken the place next to him. It's just him, the view of Paddington station and his book. 

Naturally, a girl sits down next to him just as the train is about to board, and spoils everything. She's breathing heavily - too heavily for the official noise levels of the quiet coach. He doesn't say anything though. He doesn't look at her. He looks at his book, his eyes locked on the page. The same page he's been trying to read since he got on the plane from Austria to London Gatwick. 

The train starts to move. He glances at his watch. Now there are only 28 minutes remaining. His reading speed is about 300 words every 30 seconds. So that means that while he is on the train he'll be able to read...

'Sorry,' the girl says apologetically, as her phone makes an unexpected, cheerful noise. It seems to echo madly in the Quiet Coach carriage.

He stares at her. Not directly, but sort of from the side, like a passing police officer who's caught her browsing around a shop, just before her hand would slip into the jewellery section and deposit something cheap and tacky in her pocket. He doesn't respond. He lets her taste his contempt, he watches her face go bright red. Really, can't she read? This is a fucking Quiet Coach!!

He tries to return to the book. He must. There are now only 25 minutes of the journey remaining. With his reading speed that would make about... about...

Oh, for fuck's sake! The girl is now looking for something in her bag. Plastic bags and papers rustle in her hands. Just his luck to have sat down next to the noisiest girl in the whole train.

Of course, he'll never swear in front of the girl; just as he'll never swear in front of his wife, though she often drives him mad with her constant jabber of holidays and all the things that their two kids need for school. 

He's working as hard as he can, as it is. Ok? Just give him a fucking break! What more does she want from him? He agreed to go to Austria for work, though he hates to travel, really. The only nice thing about traveling is the quiet time he can have on the plane or public transport where he can read in peace.

Well, at least in theory. What actually happened on this trip, like many others, is that he ended up doing the monthly reports on the plane to Austria and quarterly charts on the plane back. Though it's not in his job description and it's totally gone over the limit of hours he's supposed to be working, that's besides the fucking point! 

His wife keeps nagging him about going on a cruise and his boss is always after those reports, and he needs to get promoted somehow or life with all its expenses will tie around his neck like a noose. And all he wants to do is read his bloody book which he promised his dad to read before he died, and he can't because his mind keeps racing with a billion irrelevant thoughts, and the passengers on this so-called 'Quiet Coach' are so distracting!!

'The next station stop will be Reading in a few minutes time. Please do make sure you take all your belongings with you. The next station stop - Reading. That's Reading - the next station stop,' the train manager announces on the speaker in a monotone.

Already? But...

The girl next to him notices him shuffle in his seat, and asks, 'Are you getting off here?'

'Yes,' he says, calm like water. She's got a book on her lap which she will read, probably taking up the space of two seats - his and hers - for all her loud and annoying stuff. 

Well, good for her! Bloody great!

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