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"Most people who tried to get through the door saw the lad fumbling, all bent over and swearing, and just turned round resignedly..."

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story: zack wilson


The train stopped at Sheffield and hundreds of people got on. There was the usual embarrassing struggling and shoving as fat fuckers with too much luggage bumped into students with backpacks and fought for seats and luggage space whilst complacent business twats lounged like nothing was going on as their briefcases took up one seat and they used earphones and laptops enjoying the obstructions and annoyance they were causing. I dropped out in the buffet car.

I'd showered before I'd left the restaurant, rinsing off work sweat in the staff accommodation and rushing to the station with minimum luggage. I traveled back from Leeds on alternate Fridays, the Fridays I was allowed off every fortnight, it allowed me to get pissed with my old mates in Derby, see Kat, my pseudo-missus, and watch the Rams if they were at home on Saturday. I normally had to be back for Sunday lunchtime though, that was a right busy day.

So now I was getting stuck into enjoying my time off at the buffet car bar. I'd managed to sink three cans of Stella on the way from Leeds, standing upright by a window, rocking in time to the rhythm of the train, a can and a half in and you never stumble, it's all about relaxing into it. I couldn't be bothered to pretend to read the paper. On a Friday you can just about get pissed on a train without too many curiously disapproving glances.

I was pissed off about the stop at Sheffield. I'd just finished that third can and my thirst was only going to increase. Stopping here meant that dickheads with luggage and that would be pushing through the buffet car, past my window and the bar, looking for space, everyone too used to being bubbled in cars, the aggressive defense of all that personal space. It all meant that I'd probably have to wait five minutes more for that fourth can, and it was only half an hour or so to Derby, there was just never enough time to enjoy things.

The stop at Sheffield was busy even for a Friday. A lot of customers, as the announcements termed them, were getting on. One young lad got on through the door by which I had been standing. I moved quickly to allow him on. He had two massive kitbags with him, the kind sports teams use to transport a whole squad's worth of tracksuits. They were full too, all bulging and lumpy, and the zip on one was coming apart at the wrong end, the teeth pulling themselves apart slowly.

Getting his luggage on board was a battle. He wrestled and battered the two bags through the train door, his task being made more difficult by someone knocking into the swinging door on the platform and slamming it into his back. He looked annoyed anyway and this didn't cheer him up. He was a young guy, dressed a bit like a football casual but cheaper, dark black hair that was spiky on top, white skin slightly coloured with acne. I noticed a Celtic FC pin badge on a lapel of his beige jacket.

At last he managed to get himself and both his bags onto the train. He threw them onto the floor, just dumping them in the middle of the available space and leaning over them, huffing and puffing as he fucked about with the zips. He was in the way, obstructing the door into the buffet carriage that led from 'standard accommodation'. The other way was first class, and no one was trying to shove their way out from there. I didn't care, I just wanted the train to get moving so I could get hold of another Stella and hopefully have time to drink it before I reached Derby. Most people who tried to get through the door saw the lad fumbling, all bent over and swearing, and just turned round resignedly. One middle-aged woman who tried to gently force her way past soon retreated when he responded to her nudge by standing up straight, facing her, and taking the kind of sharp intake of breath that precedes violent obscenity.

The train got moving again and I bought two cans of Stella, just to make sure I had enough to drink before my money ran out. The lad was still bent over his luggage. He wasn't huffing and puffing anymore, he was just swearing, audibly and filthily, in what sounded like a Sheffield accent. Something seemed to have happened to one of the bags. The other had been chucked to one side; it now rested by one of the train doors, awkwardly, like body parts had been stuffed inside. He bent further over the one that was still absorbing his attention.

The zip seemed to have broken, and the contents of the bag were revealed to all-just clothes, unfolded. But something else had happened too. His swearing reached a really loud, aggressively conversational level and his hand quivered as he pulled a plastic coke bottle from amongst the clothes. Somehow, it had burst or come open in the bag and dark globs of sugary fluid were dripping over trousers and pants. The lad's pale complexion had become dappled. Patches of pink, white and red competed on his cheeks. He maintained a monologue of swearing that was punctuated by slabs of silence that preceded bursts of inarticulate, angry pain noises, then more silence, and back to the swearing. Throwing the now almost-empty coke bottle to one side so hard that it bounced off the door with a hollow 'tok' sound and rattled in the gap between door and floor, he abandoned the bag where it lay, and made the three-stride journey to the bar an epic of annoyance.

I faced my window and laughed to myself as he angrily asked for some napkins. He was told there were none available. He said, successfully suppressing a shout, “Well, what can I fu-what can I. Do you have anything I can use to clean up, clean up A FU-some, a mess I've made, that's been… I've got, I've got, have you got anything I can use?”

“I'll just have a look,” replied the blonde girl behind the bar, green uniform neatly pressed and eyeliner accurately applied beneath rimless spectacles. She came back with a J-cloth. It looked like it had been used to clean a sink all day. He looked at it, and then at her. She didn't look at him as he took the cloth from her with his forefinger and thumb and moved back to where his flooded bag lay in the doorway.

People were still moving around the train, obviously, and the buffet car was usually a busy area. As I mentioned, most people had seen the young man's predicament and retreated.

Two young women entertained no such thought. These lasses were stupid and confident. They wore a combination of expensive sportswear and cheap glamour, the kind of women who try out Burberry perfume at the counter in Superdrug. They strode through the obstructed doorway having the type of conversation that looks like an argument to those not involved. It was something about finding space in first class. They didn't look where they were treading, and as the lad was turned away from his bag wringing out his sodden loan cloth, they planted their feet all over his exposed clothes.

They didn't pause as he turned and straightened. He looked at their backs for an instant, sheer bewilderment on his face, then he bellowed, “What're you DOING!? Your fucking feet! Why don't you…mind…why…you…you fucking TWAT BITCH WHORE!” There were maybe three other people in the buffet car at that moment, they all heard him and looked away. The two women it was directed at only vaguely turned to see what the noise was, one of them may have sworn quietly, but I think that was just something she was saying to her friend. They didn't stop.

I opened another Stella. I thought at that moment it was the best insult I'd ever heard.

(illustration: kurt eisenlohr )


Zack Wilson is a U.K. writer based in Sheffield. His work has appeared in The Beat, Unquiet Desperation, and Winamop.

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©2007 Zack Wilson • Smokebox
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