Sometimes, it's better to miss it.
I stand, watching the 2347 to Horsham leave the station. It is the last train. And I’ve missed it.
It didn’t leave early. I wasn’t stuck in traffic. I missed it.
I think back over the last half-hour. The dawdling over the last pint. Walking to the station instead of getting a taxi. I must have known, right?
Then thinking forward. Well, an alternative forward. What would have happened. I would have reached Crawley in an hour or so and then walked the quarter-mile home. In the door just close to one o’clock. The house would be in darkness. It would feel empty, even with the car in the driveway and her shoes in the hall telling me that it wasn’t.
I would enter the room silently and listen to her sleeping breaths as I undress in the dark. And then lie there on my back staring up at the ceiling. A couple of inches, a couple of miles between us.
But instead, I’m here. Standing on a cold concourse in Victoria watching the two red lights get smaller before disappearing into the soupy darkness.
I call home - not home actually, my wife’s mobile - she always keeps it by the bed, there’s no phone in the bedroom. But it’s turned off. I leave a message, telling her what’s happened and that I’m thinking of getting a taxi home. I’ll get in trouble for doing that, of course. Now that we have the house - a mortgage, BT, water-rates - we can’t afford luxuries like hundred-quid taxi journeys. I mention our friend Jamie who lives in Shad Thames, I can stay with him maybe. I’ll call when I sort things out, I say.
After I hang up, I stare at my phone for…I don’t know how long. Not for the first time, I notice that my wife’s name and her name are next to each other. But they’re not just consecutive names, not merely alphabetically adjacent. One is English, the other is its Russian equivalent, but essentially they’re the same name.
I stare some more, my thumb hovering over the call button.
A middle-aged man rushes past, momentarily knocking me off balance. I sigh and, once again, curse the city. I watch him as his run slows to a walk. Then he stops altogether and raises his arms in desperation. With a desolate look on his face, he walks back towards me. We have something in common, it seems.
“The Horsham train?” he says. “It’s gone?”
“Yep,” I say, more relaxed than I probably should be.
“Ah, for f...,” he mutters. “I just spent twenty quid on a taxi from London Bridge.”
Something occurs to me.
“Isn’t there a train from London Bridge to Horsham?”
“Whole station is closed. Some poor sod fell under a train. Just what I need today.”
I am about to remind him of the ‘human tragedy’ and all that, but I can see from his face how little effect it will have. He walks off, mumbling something about how bad things always happen to him.
My phone is still in my hand and look at the screen again. This time, I press the button.
I turn and head towards the steps to the Tube.
The sound of her voice makes me catch my breath.
“Hello?” she says again.
“Katarina?” I say. “Hi, it’s me. I…I missed the train.”
“Oh, you missed the train, did you? I told you you would.”
“Well, yeah, I – ”
“Maybe if I had not offered an alternative solution, you would have made more of an effort, yes?”
That accent. I just love that accent.
“Maybe. So, is that offer still…” I fight the almost-overwhelming guilt. I now know what I am about to do.
“Of course. I have just arrived back at the hotel now. But I will be leaving very early in the morning. I have that flight back to Moscow so –”
“That’s okay,” I say quickly. “I can go for an early breakfast or something.”
“Okay, then. Well, see you when you get here.”
As I hang up, I veer right, towards the taxi rank on Terminus Place. A tube just won’t get me there fast enough.
“Park Lane Hilton, please,” I say to the driver and notice the shortness of my breath. Anticipation is a powerful thing.
TO BE CONTINUED.