Sunday, 7 April 2013

342: Strangers on a Train

Jerry stepped into the carriage and he didn’t recognize anyone.  He had ridden the 7.42 into central London every day for years and today he recognized no one.  He didn’t always see all of his other regulars every day, but he usually saw some people he knew.  Today there was nobody at all.

Jerry usually preferred a window seat, forward facing if he could get one.  His stop was near the start of the line so he quite often managed a seat but today he had to be content with an aisle seat.  No matter, it was facing forward and he could see much of the carriage from there.  The people weren’t just unknown to him, they looked strange.  His eyes took in the shoes and the clothing and the numerous hand-held devices but his brain didn’t recognize this view of commuting in London.

Some of the commuters read newspapers, but not many.  Most of those who did all read the same tabloid-sized edition of The Metro.  Jerry wondered what had become of The Times and The Financial Times and even The Guardian.  People who worked in the city always used to read broadsheets on the train.  That’s what one did.

A thought dawned on Jerry.  Half of the passengers, probably more than half, were women.  He was used to seeing women commuting of course, but not in such large numbers.  It was unlikely many of the women employed in his bank earned enough to live close enough to walk to work but he wondered whether many would earn enough to commute by train.  Janice and Mary both came by bus he knew, and the fares must surely be lower than the train.

Few of the men looked like they were dressed suitably for the office, thought Jerry.  He counted only six suits, compared to almost twenty pairs of blue jeans, and there were sports trousers and even shorts on show too.  He wondered where on earth might be suitable for working in shorts or running bottoms in London.  Jerry wore his best suit every day, blue pinstripe with a white shirt and blue tie.

Only one person other than him carried any kind of briefcase at all.  Lots of people had small leather cases about the size of a book, most of which seemed to have moving images inside, almost like a small cinema screen.  When he could Jerry read through some papers from the day before but there wasn’t really the space to spread out today.  He wished trains still had tables like they used to.

At the next station Jerry looked out of the window and recognized very little there too.  He glimpsed an odd building or two that he knew, but somehow the train must have been taking a different route today.  He didn’t think there had been any announcement but maybe he had just missed it.  And then at last, Jerry saw someone he knew.  A middle aged woman walked towards him, smiling.

“Hello, Miss Carter.  I’m having a rather funny day.  May I have my usual morning tea please?”
“Dad, it’s me.  Sarah.  You’ve got on the train again.  Mum rang me when she found you’d gone.”

“Yes, that’s right.  I got the train.  Like every morning.”  Jerry looked up at her.  “Wasn’t I supposed to?”

“No Dad, not any more,” Sarah said.  “Let’s get you home.  Mum’s ever so worried.  This is the second time this week.”

Sarah helped Jerry from his seat and carried his ancient briefcase.  Together they left the carriage and headed for Sarah’s car, arm in arm, as the 7.52 continued on its way into the city.

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