Invitation to Change

For someone who does his best to avoid contact with strangers, he seems to attract an undeserved amount of attention. Perhaps his face invites it. If so, it would be his mother's fault. He inherited her smooth skin and large eyes. He wished his genes were more like his father's; his expressions were a closed door.

Right now, a short lady wearing a hat is watching him and fidgeting. A minute ago, the lady tugged at his sweater and said in an accent that could have been Polish or Russian, "Why do you stand so close to the edge? You may be in an accident."

He nodded and took a pace backward. Once the lady wearing the hat had retreated, he stepped forward to his original spot. Now the lady is looking around anxiously, perhaps willing someone else to come and help. She finally shakes her head and wanders off down the platform to hide behind a vending machine, muttering.

He looks down onto the metal tracks where several dirty black mice skitter between chunks of metal and empty drink cans. He has his hands in his pockets, and he is tightly crunching a piece of paper in one fist. He wants to pull out the paper and read it again, but then he has already read it over and over, and people who are watching him will think him strange. The lady with the hat might return and ask him if he's alright.

Perhaps he could do something to his face to make himself less approachable. He could use heavy black makeup, or shave his head and get a tattoo. But that might upset Eimar. She hates tattoos, and says that they look common. He tries to frown and grimace, but it feels stupid, and his face starts to ache after a few seconds, so he stops.

Eimar is getting bigger, and she looks different from the picture he has of her in his wallet. Her cheeks jiggle when she laughs and when she reads the newspaper her chin sinks into a fold of flab that wasn't there when they first met. She likes to go to the pub most nights where she jokes and tells stories and drinks endless pints of Guinness. He sits in the corner like an ornament, and laughs at the right time so that people don't notice him for not laughing. Perhaps he will get a tattoo after all. Across his whole face like the man he saw driving a Harley who had a spider's web stretching from ear to ear.

He feels the distant rumble under his feet, and a gust of tepid air blasts his face and tousles his hair as the tube approaches. At last. He shuffles forward still further so that the toes of his shoes are almost over the edge of the platform. There are now many people behind him - sweating businessy types with briefcases and disinterested eyes, loud teenagers jostling and cussing, dirty vagrants with missing teeth. He catches sight of the lady with the hat who is now staring at him openmouthed. She thinks he will jump!

The front of the tube passes him and he his hit with a wall of vibrating air and fumes, but he holds still. He is that close, if he sticks his tongue out he will be able to lick the side of the carriage.

He boards the tube and sits on his own by the plastic partition. He unfolds the piece of paper from his pocket and looks at it again. Handwritten in block capitals that have been scrawled in cheap black biro, it reads:

'Dear Dermot O'Farrell'

The 'F' of Farrell is twice the size of any character on the rest of the page,

'Hate your job. Fallen out of favour with your lady. Every day the same. Guess you are unhappy? You are not the only one.

For once, make a decision. Do not plod on, each footstep the same as the previous one. COME SEE. '

Then at the foot of the page a postcode and a two-digit number. He crumples the paper back into the pocket, where it had appeared that morning. By osmosis.

Dermot chuckles nervously as the tube racks up through the gears.

The End

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