Read 'em like a book

Friday, May 16th, 2003

I forgot to bring a book with me to read on the train this morning, so I was reduced to trying to read my fellow passengers instead. And unlike most mornings, where everyone blurs into a mass of anonymous commuter grey, there was a trainful of individuals this morning.

I first sat opposite a woman in a pop art blouse, a riot of images that seemed designed to draw attention to it. She leaned her face on one hand, obscuring half of it, for almost the whole journey as if she was battling with sleep. At the end, when she stood up to leave, the hidden half of her face was revealed and it seemed to have slid an inch down her head – the eye and the cheekbone and the side of the mouth were all lower on one side then the other, as if a landslip had carried part of a cliff away.

Opposite her, after I moved to a seat where I could stretch my foot out, a youngish couple sat down. He was big, wore a business suit with no tie, looked like he'd been a public school rugby player. She was small and Australian, elfin, with dangly earrings the size of jugglers' clubs. They were comfortable together, both affectionate and businesslike at once. On one cheekbone she had the red graze of an almost-faded black eye. I wondered how she had had got it. Could he – surely not?

Behind the pop art woman was the dark profile of a man who'd slipped onto the train mid-journey almost unnoticed. He was handsome – more than handsome – dressed in black, a little unshaven, a little European-looking, like the sort of Bond villain whose smile hides how dangerous he is. The sort of face that makes heads turn in the street and hearts flutter.

And opposite me, once I'd moved, sat a young woman in the black trousers / black leather jacket uniform of the ordinary City worker. But instead of a smart blouse she'd pulled on a shapeless roll-neck pullover in a shade of pinky-orange, which made her look surprisingly human. After a few minutes combing out damp hair with her fingers she started fixing her make-up. Now, this is something I could watch all day. I am always fascinated by the total concentration and self absorbtion that goes into applying lipstick, eye shadow, blusher and so on, and by the slow transformation that takes place. There's also the constant question of whether the train will lurch at the wrong moment and leave a long trail of lipstick across the face or a mascara pencil jabbed in the eye. It never does, of course.

People are the most fascinating thing in the world. Maybe I'll not bother with a book tomorrow, either.

*Edit* Just realised tomorrow's Saturday, not a work day… doh.
 

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.