Long Way Home

THIS IS. BARKING.

Why is everybody drunk?

And old?

I grip my suitcase handle and try hard to steady myself.

I’m basically doing a more publically accepted yoi-dachi.

It’s working anyway. Ground yourself. Don’t fall over. You got this. I look up briefly to determine whether or not I can hold on to the puke-green handles that are fused to the carriage ceiling. But I’m a bit too short. Woe is me.

Interestingly, being pressed into a cramped, awkward circle of three men – each sporting a can of lager – is the most comfortable position to be in. I could move backwards an inch or so, but then I would be pressed against somebody else’s butt cheek. So I mean, choose your battles.

Where the hell do I look?

Looking to either side will press me into somebody’s sweaty armpits. Looking forward gives me direct eye contact with a Lager Man no. 1. And looking backwards…well, my neck doesn’t quite twist that way.

“It’s not good man, it’s not good.”

I sneak a quick peek out the corner of my eye trying to locate the source of the Essex-accented jeremiad.  It’s Lager Man no. 2. He’s shaking his head and looking at his friend disapprovingly.

“Look, mate, I don’t wanna talk about it, aite?” No. 1 retaliates, swigging from his can. Some of it dribbles down his chin and mingles with his stubble. The can is green with some sort of animal on it. Maybe a bull? I wonder if I should know the brand. Probably.

I’m such an awful student.

For a moment I glance around and notice that literally everybody is holding a can of something. One man is even holding a pint glass. I am the only teenager on this train. How am I the most sober?

Never before have I felt more like a posh middle-class twat. All girls grammar school? Check. Posh university? Check. Well done Niks, well done.

Still, my London/Essex roots haven’t fully abandoned me. I understand enough to be able to decipher Lager Male’s conversation.  Besides, what really irritates me is the fact that I was really in the mood for wine earlier. But decided it would be too much of a lowering of morals to take wine onto the train. Looking around me now I realise that I would have just fitted in.

Male Three speaks up for the first time:

“Look, he can do what he wants? Alright Deets?”

I try to look up casually, just so I can put a face to the voice.

That’s it. Sweep your eyes around the whole carriage so it’s not too obvious. Aaaaand – that one! Oooooh okay so Male no. three looks like a child.

In all seriousness, nothing in this man’s face seems proportionate. Instead of a business suit, the guy looks like he should be wearing a diaper. Straight up looks like he came fresh out of the womb and thought it would be fun to ride a c2c train. Where’s his mother?

Oh snap. He’s looking at me now. Look away? No. LOOK DOWN. LOOK DOWN. Don’t look them in the eye!

Sometimes I wish I could go longer than 24 hours without mentally bursting out into a showtune. But then I realise that life would be somewhat boring.

Babyface disturbingly looks like he has a boner. ‘Look down’ was apparently some bad self-directed advice. It’s like some sort of tragedy. You don’t want to look but you kind of have to. How long till I get to Southend East again? Fifteen stops? Brillbo baggins.

“It’s still raw alright?” (No. 1) “I can’t throw her out the house yet.”

“Why not?”

“Because…you just don’t get it Deets. You know what your problem is? You’re so theo-fucking-retical.”

Theo-fucking-retical. Nice one. Might have to add that to my verbal repertoire.

No. 2: You can’t stay in the same house, sleep in the same bed with someone you’re not together with. It’s just wrong man.

I concur.

No. 3: They’re not sleeping in the same bed. Are you?

A very pregnant pause. I resist the urge to look at No. 1. Judging from the slurping sounds, he’s having another sip of the bull lager. It’s one long sip.  Finally,

No. 1: Well…we are.

Well it’s all coming out now.

No. 3: Dude, I thought she was sleeping downstairs.

No. 1: She did for a bit, then she moved back up.

Would now be an inappropriate time to say bowchickawowow?

I dip in and out of the conversation. Actually, that’s a lie, because it makes it sound like I’m not at all that bothered. In truth, I’m straining to hear every word, but the carriage is so loud. A part of me wants a juicy story; maybe his ex cheated on him with his boss or something. But although work is the reason No. 1 and Miss I’m-gonna-share-your-bed-but-I-won’t-get-back-with-you split up, it’s not quite that straightforward.

No 1: I love my job. There isn’t a day I’ve ever woken up and not wanted to go to work.

I feel like I’ve got whiplash. And it’s not because the train pitched forward suddenly, causing me to fall against my suitcase. This is more of a mental whiplash. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say that about their job. EVER. Briefly I wonder what his job is. But then mental whiplash strikes again as I realise – it doesn’t matter. It’s not the job, but the person. I think I’ve just had a revelation.

THIS IS. BENFLEET.

Why does the overhead voice always sound like she’s speaking in comma splices?

“…nahhh man, when I get back, she’ll probably be drunk. Gonna stay away from that. Might be a bit dodgy.”

Laughter. General ruckus. (Do people still use that word?) Whoops. Standard lad noises.

No. 2: Oooo you dog!

Wait. Was that a rape joke? What did I miss?

No. 3: You been alright though? This past week you needed someone and you didn’t let me in.

No. 1: I’m fine mate. I mean what would you do, if you and Tina broke up?

No. 3: I know, but you didn’t let me in mate.

No. 2: You guys sound so homo.

No. 1: Look, when you got a bird saying sorry and looking at you with those sweet little eyes, you can’t just chuck her out alright?

No. 2: Sweet innocent eyes!

No. 1: Deets!

No. 2: I get your point, alright man? Would be inhumane.

No. 3 is yawning now. Standard I-don’t-wanna-discuss-this-so-I’m-going-to-pretend-I’m-not-even-here. I can’t judge. I do it too.

Is everyone pissed off their face because it’s Easter weekend?

But I don’t get it. It’s Thursday not Friday.

I glance around. Most of the carriage has emptied out. There’s a woman in a pretty sexy red dress sprawled over the seats. High off her face.

Poor unfortunate soul.

Some guy is drooling over her. He’s reaching for her legs. The naive part of me hopes he’ll close them – preserve dignity and whatnot.

Oh. Okay no. No. That’s not what he’s doing. Okayyyyyy

“Shit, what’s going on down there?”

I turn. There’s a huge fight going down between two men. One man is shorter, with curly brown hair. The other is taller and heavyset. He’s also black. No prizes for guessing who’s going to win.

And I can say that because I’m West African.

“Posh wanker needs to stop. He’s gonna get his lights punched out.”

There’s a whole load of screaming and a whole load of people running to intercede. I wonder if anybody is going to call the train guard, but then I remember that the guard is in the middle carriage, which is on the other side of the fight. There’s no way I can get down there without getting punched in the face.

“Alright, I’m not getting involved. He’s got a gun in his back pocket.” Another man returns to inform us.

Well this train journey just got a whole lot more interesting.           

Posh boy is saying he’ll be damned if he’s the first to get off the train. His opponent is screaming at him to get off the train or he’ll shank him up. People around me are beginning to place bets on who’s going to get knocked out first.

“I bet ya 20p mate. 20p!”

These are my people.

Welcome to Essex.

THIS IS. WESTCLIFF.

Posh boy’s friends stay on. Posh boy staggers to our side of the carriage.

“Real sorry ladies and gents. I did nothing to start it, promise ya.” He looks into my eyes. I nod.

Sure ya didn’t.

I’ve never seen eyes more bloodshot or feet more unbalanced. But I nod anyway because hey, he’s got a gun right? And I almost feel sorry for him. He’s trying really hard to appear sober. Is this what I look like on nights out?

He staggers back up again. A man in front of me with blonde bleached hair looks at his watch.

“If this was Manchester, this would be over by now.”

Another yelling match ensues. Shoving. Pushing. But the gun stays in his jeans. I glance around to double check there are no kids on this carriage. Thankfully not.

At the next stop, posh boy is shoved off the train. He staggers down the station. The carriage erupts in applause.

Until we discover that the train is to be delayed for ten minutes.

What an absolute joke.

No. 2: She’s got money. Why doesn’t she just leave? It’s not right to share a bed man.

No 1: Now, Deets? Really?

YEAH SHUT UP DEETS. 

Wait, did I say that out loud?

I move away from Lager Men and lean against my suitcase. Could this train journey get any more dramatic?

My phone rings in my pocket. It’s my brother.

“Hey Niks, mum’s gone into hospital.”

THIS IS. SOUTHEND EAST.

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