Gwil James Thomas recently moved to London, England. His written work has appeared here, 3AM, Push Literary Zine, Mungbeing and Fiction 365, amongst others. He is the author of the novel Captains of Sinking Ships (Kenton) and a forthcoming short story collection, Halfway to Nowhere – due to be released in Greece by Strange Days Books. He plans to one day build a house.
Riding Through The Night in The Carriage of Sparse Light
Daylight had almost gone, the shadows flickering across the carriage, which seemed to be in power save mode as they bounded past the whitewashed countryside of the south east of England. His name isn’t important – another passenger, another face. He’d already been redirected twice and only just boarded the train. But another two hours and he’d be home. As long as the roads weren’t closed and the lines didn’t shut down before they reached them. All this over some snow. Still, there were bigger problems for the passenger, such as the bloke across from him – some pissed skinhead, longing for a fight. He’d already started on a couple of others earlier, before he’d mumbled to himself when that failed. The passenger really wasn’t in the mood for his bullshit.
The skinhead cracked open another can and stared at him. The shadows made it hard to read, but the passenger scanned the first lines of a magazine he’d found, hoping that the skinhead would lose interest:
“Did you know that when vegetation runs out, locusts form groups within the swarm and turn to cannibalism?”
He paused, then slowly the passenger looked up – the skinhead was staring blankly at the ceiling. Good. Foolishly, the passenger became a distracted by a girl two seats behind the skinhead. She was in her early twenties, headphones in – arms crossed, swaying to the rhythm of the carriage, petite with deep-set eyes and cupid lips. Though his staring had stirred the skinhead again.
Then, the train started to slow – a station approaching. The skinhead stood up.
“What you staring at? You want me to throw you on the tracks?” the skinhead said.
“Don’t talk to me,” The passenger replied and looked to his bag – he wanted to keep him distracted until, fingers crossed, he got off.
“YOU FUCKING WHAT SON!” The skinhead replied, shoving his right hand around his throat.
Knocked back into his seat, the passenger tried to push against the skinhead’s arm, feeling for his bag with the other arm. Inside there were three bottles of beer that he’d resisted drinking. Choose your battles – there was no way he was going to overpower the skinhead. But if he was going to spend the rest of the journey cornered, or beaten, then he’d take a gamble with the bottle. Then he felt something land by his hand. The train stopped and the skinhead let go.
“Count yourself lucky you little prick,” the skinhead said and headed for the door.
Whether the skinhead was traveling to the village outside, or he’d run out of beer and decided to stop there – only the skinhead knew. The passenger looked down and noticed that it was the skinhead’s wallet that had fallen. The doors had opened as the skinhead stepped out. The passenger looked in the wallet. There was forty quid inside. Was this something coming back on the skinhead karmically speaking? Or would this be something that came back on him? Whatever. He slipped out the notes and stepped up to the carriage window, catching up with the skinhead. He hit the glass as the skinhead turned around, just making out his wallet being held up. The skinhead stood helpless, frozen with anger. Momentarily the passenger watched, as the train skipped into motion. The passenger ran to the door and pushed down the window, watching the skinhead drunkenly jog behind, before he lobbed the wallet onto the platform. It looked hilarious. He’d find it. The passenger pulled up the window – there was his good deed of the day. He felt the notes in his pocket. He knew a fair Italian restaurant near the station that he could hit up after he arrived. He could almost smell the aroma.
Through the sparse light, he found his bag and seat. He pulled out a lighter and uncapped the bottle.
“Well, he was a dick,” a voice said from down the carriage.
And to think that he’d almost forgotten about her. He swallowed the mouthful of beer and tried his best to spark conversation. It was cold and there was little reason for hollering across the carriage. He got closer. The carriage to themselves.
Neither of them, could work out where the other passengers had all gone through the journey, but that was all small talk anyway. Passing her a beer he remembered how pretty she’d seemed in the light. He wasn’t much to look at – ugly even. The near darkness seemed to make everything feel more plausible, possible. He said that he studied art at Southampton University – she seemed to like that. He regretted lying. They shared the third beer. In a moment’s silence he held her hand and brushed back her hair – she seemed unsure for a moment. Then, as they passed light from a town, she parted her lips and kissed him, before pressing her hand between his legs. As they kissed, one cold hand found its way up her top and she shivered slightly as he moved it over her ribcage and cupped a breast. She rested against the window, as he then worked his way up her leg and between her legs, her warm breath hitting his neck as she groaned. Outside the lights were building up again. She grinned, bittersweetly. Her stop. She managed to knock her bag across the floor, spilling the contents in the process and the passenger helped her with another bag. She got off just before the doors closed. As the train began to depart he returned to the seat and watched her leave, there was little else to do, other than wish he’d gotten off with her. At the last second she turned around and waved a hand, before disappearing just as quickly. Another blip in the night. What was her name? Maybe it was never given, just like his own.
He wished he had another beer left, whilst through the window he searched the night sky for the north star, thinking about how hilarious life could be.