It was 6:45pm and the replacement bus service from twickenham to kingston still hadn’t arrived. I looked upwards to face the sunset and tutted quietly to show my annoyance, although admittedly I’d barely noticed the time before that moment. Since getting off the train at Twickenham I’d had my head buried deeply into the first few chapters of Thomson’s The Insult, a book which had me so entranced I actually had to remind myself to check the time; remind myself that this journey’s destination was home, not chapter 5.
It also dawned on me whilst reading the book how the pace of time and one’s sense of surroundings seem to evaporate when concentrating on something. With the train rocking peacefully from side, the sun setting and my eyes glazed with the distant effort to keep reading, I forgot on several occasions where I was, and just how close I was to Twickenham. Occassionaly I’d look up, scan the people around me: an American looking guy resting his head on a giant rucksack, and a drunk English yob with an empty bottle of WKD slowly inching out of his back pocket as he fell into a deeper and deeper sleep. “This train is for..London Waterloo..The next station is..Winnersh”, came the announcement. Winnersh? I thought. Really, Winnersh? Is that even a place? As the train pulled in at Winnersh I could see nothing but a car park and forest, and felt a sudden rush of gratitude in light of the fact that I didn’t live there. It struck me as the kind of romantic place you’d like to travel through on a train, but not the sort of place that actually inhabits people, that actually exists.
The replacement bus service finally arrived and I was pleased to see that it was a coach. Well, I’d expect as much after spending £16 on a ticket to get home. Nothing but luxury for me on this journey, thank you very much. I’d even snuck into the first class cabin on the train, thinking I deserved an extra few inches of seat space for my ass, that I needed one of those fold out tables for the drink I couldn’t afford.
I boarded the coach with just two other people who had clearly just met; one was the American guy I’d spotted earlier and the other a shy looking woman in her early thirties. She was very slim, mousey even, with sunken cheeks and a skirt that came down half way between her knees and her ankles, a length she probably thought was risqué. Her hair was fluffy and flyaway in a way that suggested she’d had it that way since being a little girl, and as the American approached her to ask her for the time, she looked exited, shocked even, that someone would take the time.
Jut before the bus departed he tentatively sat next to her and began to describe his weekend at Reading Festival. ‘Do you know about Reading, or V Festival?’ he asked. I stopped reading to listen to the conversation and already knew the answer before she gave it. A quiet but pleading ‘no’ stole away from her lips. He continued to impress her with music and festival jargon as we drove smoothly through Twickenham and Teddington, her sweet voice occasionally chiming in to agree with comments about the weather or the commerciality of music in the modern day. I felt as if they were future lovers, both eager but just a tad too awkward to ask each other out for dinner. They would inevitably soon have to part ways, the journey from Twickenham to Kingston is only a short one after all, and it would be a moment to make or break them.
As the American was talking, the shy woman looked nervously out of the window. She seemed embarrassed, devastated even, to have to cut him off. ‘This is my stop..’ she said. It was as if she knew she was going to ruin their departure all along. ‘Ok’ he said quite cheerfully, ‘nice to talk to you’. ‘Lovely..’ She trailed off weakly and hurriedly gathered her things and scampered off the bus, the way that a beetle does when it's toppled over and is trying to roll back onto its belly. As we drove past her she had her back to the bus, and I could tell she was posing, walking in a certain way that showed what little curves she could had; an endearing yet pathetic attempt to show him what he’s missing. I cursed in my seat. Still, I thought, she’ll feel happy. She’ll feel like someone wanted her. He’ll forget by morning, but she’ll wake up, look in the mirror and sexily push that flyaway hair off her face and smile.
I reopened The Insult for the final part of the coach journey and stared whimsically at the words, hardly letting the next few paragraphs register in my mind. They had missed their opportunity, but I wasn’t going to miss mine