Monday, April 05, 2010

Mind the Gap

“Mind the gap… The next train will arrive in 3 minutes."

The tannoy rings, devoid of either excitement or resentment. A deadpan voice revealing nothing. The afternoon rush hour. The grey Tube platform where one is surrounded by paradoxically crowded solitude.

After an equally mechanical series of beeping, a departing train sends a ripple of air along the platform, temporarily suspending in mid-air anything that isn't weighty or strapped down and fluttering them about like so many manic marionettes: Coat straps. Abandoned leaflets (Free trial of... !) Her hair.

It almost resembles like a slow motion scene from a romantic comedy, her hair moving like a brown silk wave, at the same time random and enticingly arranged. She is looking away, the profile of her chin the only teasing aspect available to me, and standing to close to the edge of the platform there is no better vantage point that avoids the universally implied social contract to not be a creepy pervert. Deciding that the train of thought borders on pathetic, my hand reaches inside my jacket pocket and fishes out my worn copy of Chekhov plays and flicks to my bookmark midway through the Cherry Orchard. Mere seconds after, the object of my observation reaches into her bag and takes out a book of her own.

As she does, she turns toward the opposite platform, displaying an adorable button nose and deep brown eyes that even from afar seems to hold a glint of mischief. As with the dozens of others on the platform, her delicately small mouth is locked in a semi-frown of weary focus. Overall I find the face very pleasing, with a slightly elfin cute look that I find so captivating and distracting. My attention is drawn to the book in her hand, worrying slightly as it is a black hardback about the size of the Twilight books that are seemingly breeding in bookshops across the country. If it turns out to be "New Moon" the magic would dissipate, an electric moment evaporating to leave the mediocre uneventful commute home that otherwise occupies that hour. An inward sigh of relief: it is Anna Karenina. I smile slightly, gently approving her choice of travelling literature.  

She must spot this out of the corner of her eye, and looks up slightly but not completely so that she is slightly peering through the swept aside fringe of her dark chocolate hair (Lent clearly cannot end too soon). The pragmatist in me finds this amusing, the romantic in me finds this fantastically endearing. She in turn looks at my book then back up at me and returns a smile. It appears to me that the dim lighting increases slightly, a deeper orange glow almost like springtime rays of sunlight beating down making the building swell and sharpen in the most optimistic way. Two book lovers with a brief connection across the concrete concourse.

Yet scruples and convention states neither of us step toward each other, no moves are made to start a conversation in such a situation. The divide of mere feet might as well be miles. Out of earshot: out of access. The leftmost edge of my peripheral vision, unwilling to break the elusive gaze, spies a pair of headlights and my feet feel a faint but growing rumbling in the platform. Still the look is held, holding until she seemingly realises with a jolt that the Tube carriages thunder toward us are for her homeward bound journey. She takes a few steps toward me (a mere few taken on my part would have taken us to handshake proximity) and boards the vessel.

The doors close with a cutting finality. For all its wheezing and lethargic action, the doors sliding shut recollecting a steam press I saw as a youth, slamming together with a clunk of finality, putting to an abrupt end any potential precursor to a meeting. Our eyes meet once more through the scratched and smoggy windows (as the train chugs its way past me on its initially slow and almost taunting warm-up run) before she averts her gaze. Is it embarrassment? Is it coyness?

And with that, as suddenly as I had started to fall for her, the tube gathers speed and leaves the station.

"Next train will arrive in 2 minutes."

7 Response to Mind the Gap

5 April 2010 at 11:23

What is it with you and russian literature. One might think this has something to do with why happiness is elusive for you (I'm basing this theory entirely on the time I saw Chekhov's "Three Sisters" and it was totally depressing and made no sense).
I'm reading "Eat Pray Love" right now -- you'd judge me, wouldn't you? It's actually kind of good, not as midwestern-housewife-y as I expected.

Also this story is very very British. In Italy even the fact that you're both wearing jeans could be reason enough for someone to come talk to you. You should try it some time.
And as always, your writing is lovely :)

6 April 2010 at 13:05

Story of my life. Quite often my shyness and the lack of Man-upness creates the barrier for me to just go out and meet people, girls especially.

Good post dude!

6 April 2010 at 20:21

I miss the trains (but in Oz). And don't diss my twilight. Don't judge a girl by her book cover :)

7 April 2010 at 05:55

@Kat - Haha, so you think you've got me figured out by my literature choice? Hoisted by my own petard! Would you recommend I break out the Mitch Albom? Never actually read 'Eat Pray Love' but preliminary Googling made me decide that the author is a handsome looking lady and it sounds like a great idead for a book. Then I read it was being made into a Julia Roberts film. Oh nonononono. :)

And that totally doesn't work. I wear jeans all the time!

@Faker - I'm actually great at meeting new people but only once that first ice has been broken. I need more 'ins' I think! I don't think it's so much as case of manning up as just realising they're just random people like you, and there's no reason they wouldn't want to talk to you :)

@Sam - I've only been on one train in Oz, and it was completely unlike the Tube. A lot less grimey. The only dirtier subway I've been on are the ones in Paris. Those bad boys are GRIM!

And I will completely judge a girl by her book cover when the moment is so fleeting, haha! Though I will give you a thousand byes because I know your taste is sound! :)

8 April 2010 at 01:20

I loved this. It's like candy to a hopeless romantic like me. These are the moments I fabricate in my head and hope will happen in real life some day, but tend to only come out in the fiction I write.
Beautifully written and formulated. I really enjoyed how you put it all together in a read that's about as long as the moment you were trying to convey most likely lasted.
Anecdotes such as these make me wonder how many opportunities are lost in the passing of trains or through doors held open. I fear too many on my part as I'm often too shy to hold a gaze as long as the one in your post :)

8 April 2010 at 03:08

This is so wonderfully written, Stephen.
It sounds like a Missed Connection moment.

12 April 2010 at 20:20

Stephen I don't think I mentioned how wonderfully written this was. Great post. And, I totally thought of you this weekend watching Doctor Who. "Mind the Doors" lol!!