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Writer, poet, pop biographer, scriptwriter, film director and in another life, a journalist. I've been a waiter and a bar attendant, too.
HAMISH TAKES A TRAIN (short story)
Hamish dashed to catch the eight am express train to the city. He caught it just in time, the loud swishhh of the electric doors behind him and the cold draft of winter air reminded him just how close.
The train was packed, with many people standing, briefcases tucked between their ankles, handbags clutched under upper arms and elbows. Some were reading newspapers, others clutching supermarket novels. Most were in private reverie with the outside world as a cacophony of radio jock voices, jingles and country music seeped from the sockets in their ears.
The lucky ones were sitting, hunched over smart phones, tablets and laptops.
Hamish wanted a seat so he searched, moving easily through the carriage crush. Sometimes, he knew, it was useful to be small of stature. It certainly never bothered him.
Size isn’t everything, his father told him often, you are from a long and proud line and though we’re short by their standards, what we lack in physical dimension, we more than make up for in spirit and courage.
Remembering, Hamish felt a lightness and an urge to strut and smile. Impossible, unfortunately, in this sardine can environment. So he carried on, sweeping the aisles for a vacant nook. There were only four stops between here and the city, this being the express. Few would disembark and what now might seem a crush, would be a stroll in a poppy strewn meadow. If he wanted a seat, he’d have to get it now.
Then he saw him, a man who might kindly be called ‘large’, sweating profusely in a thread challenged suit, cheeks aglow, beads of sweat in a bubbled ridge across his forehead, one ferocious balloon of slobber poised to plop from his right jowl that was so fleshly ponderous it reminded him of Boris, his neighbour’s portly bulldog.
This man, let’s call him Boris for convenience, sat astride the entire seat, wedged in at the aisle side by the narrow carriage table. Hamish moved like mercury, slipping under the table and emerging in the corner and only vacant space on the bench seat.
Boris jumped. Well, as much as he could, given his enormity, the crowded carriage and his own uncomfortable position wedged, as he was, between seat and table. His head swivelled and with it, half his bulk and, Hamish noted with amusement, the ball bag of saliva and sweat from his jowl that now reverberated in plump, rolling waves.
Hamish watched its progress with amusement as it sloshed in slow motion across the table before erupting in a spray across the face of his immediate neighbour’s tablet. A comedy of manners ensued as the offended passenger recoiled in horror. Tissues were produced, as were glares and tuts from surrounding passengers, hungry for the tiniest diversion.
The lady directly in front of Hamish turned away to gaze out the window, stifling a giggle as she did while exchanging a conspiratorial glance and smile. Hamish was chuffed.
Boris, the poor man, was nonplussed and embarrassed. His cheeks, high coloured as they were from the physical discomfort of being wedged into the carriage bench, were now unhealthily rubicund. Hamish sensed his shortened, fetid breath.
Happily, the tannoy voice announced the train’s arrival at the first station on the journey in a voice and tone that suggested the town and station had appeared by surprise and he was a permanent resident of the train since it sounded like a language with only a faint acquaintance with English.
At least it was a diversion and Hamish could feel Boris relax beside him, shifting his weight slightly as though to reassert his preeminence in the seat they shared, even venturing to break the ice with the man he’d engulfed with saliva and mucus just a moment before.
“Do you have a feckin’ clue what that fella’s saying? Talking feckin’ gibberish,” he asked, only to be ignored.
Hamish was studying the angry passenger just before he adopted the mantle of the train’s most unlucky traveller. The train lurched abruptly as the few new commuters in the carriage pressed themselves firmly into the impossible space, a paper cup of tepid train station coffee splashed across his shoulders and the back of his head before trickling, stickily, down the back of his shirt.
The kerfuffle that followed his baptism of slobber paled by comparison to the floor show that followed. Heck, Hamish was so enamoured of this latest drama, he gave Angry Passenger the name of, well, Angry Andy since, at that precise moment, it was his chosen role.
Hoisting himself from his by now sodden seat, Angry Andy muttered. Unfortunately, no one understood him as he had now adopted the same indecipherable tongue of train tannoy announcers.
Swinging his arms about and wrenching at his neck and shirt as though to separate one from the other might relieve him of this sticky caffeine downpour, he jumped to his feet, knocking his tablet from the protection of his lap and straight, face down, into the puddle of remaining coffee on the table in front of him.
Boris scrambled to retrieve the stricken tablet while Andy Angry spilled a howl of anguish but alas, this catalogue of catastrophes had only begun.
Sweaty and encumbered by his weight and confined perch, poor Boris failed to get a firm grasp on his quarry and, just as the train lurched again, this time to leave the station, the tablet leaped from the big man’s hands and disappeared into the forest of legs now crowding the carriage aisle.
Hamish was delighted. Not for Angry Andy’s misfortune or Boris’s discomfort but with the unfolding playbill of comic sketches and melodramas that would entertain and shorten the journey. Indeed, he wasn’t alone either as the murmur of suppressed whispers and smothered snickers could testify.
Even Giggling Gertrude, Hamish had a habit of according people appropriate names to suit the circumstance as he’d been called a few random names himself in the past, couldn’t resist as her entire face below her eyebrows disappeared into a cloud of flower embroidered, scented hanky.
Lavender, thought Hamish, smiling at his own perspicaciousness and her taste, failing to realise his mistake too late.
“Do you find this funny?” Angry Andy demanded. Hamish did his best to look sheepish. He didn’t answer but looked out the window at the passing countryside.
Luckily, the curtain dropped as the ticket master announced his arrival, shouting, “Tick-ets, plee — uz.”
Hamish took advantage of the confusion and distraction to dive under the table again as arriving late at the station, he failed to secure a ticket. Once more he thanked his father and his father’s ancestors for their compact stature and flexibility.
Boris had spilled about a poker night with the boys worth of bacon fries and tortilla chips on the floor. Hamish helped himself to a mouthful. He was hungry.
It took barely a moment and he was back in his seat, studying the scenery and uncomfortably aware Giggling Gertrude was on the verge of panty wetting paroxysm from the latest events and his own disappearing act.
The next station arrived and went without any further disturbance. The ticket master reappeared, carrying a wad of tissues for Angry Andy who took them with a faintly gracious air as the two lapsed into conversation about the prospects of the County team in their forthcoming match in Croke Park against the so far unassailable All Ireland champions.
Angry Andy smiled as the obliging porter disappeared, hoolalooing,
Up the Royals, a reference to the County’s history as the seat of ancient royal authority.
Hamish took a sidelong glance at Giggling Gertrude who had regained her composure and produced a paperback from her handbag. She was reading Marley & Me, a trivial novel about the homelife experience of a golden retriever. Although he hadn’t read the book, he’d seen the film and wasn’t impressed.
Gertrude sneaked a peak at him across the book’s spine and they shared a furtive smile. Her eyes twinkled as she smiled. Hamish was pleased.
“Distrainterminatesatdenextstation,” the tannoy voice announced. “Conn-oll-leeeStation, pleasegatheryourbelongingsbeforedisembarking, MIIIND DE GAP.”
The train lurched to a stop. Newspapers were folded, paperbacks, tablets and iPods were stashed away. Coats were gathered and donned as slowly, people disembarked.
Hamish was too busy minding the gap as the tannoy man had warned so he didn’t notice the porter, the same ticket man who’d chatted gamely with Angry Andy, when he nabbed him by the collar while alighting.
“Gotcha,” he said and Hamish couldn’t deny it. And squirm and wriggle as he tried, he couldn’t get away. The jig was up and he was caught.
It could’ve been worse, he thought later while nibbling on the biscuits in the ticket man’s meaty paw, his other scratching him affectionately, behind the ear.
Not a Pheasant Plucker is a crime novel.
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