“As a result of the overcrowding due to the short-forming of this train, we will be non-stopping at the next station.”

The tannoy announcement was the catalyst that tipped an already angry Steve Graham into a paroxysm of disgust. He looked at Robbie Blake who stood inches away from him as they formed a throng in the middle of the carriage, surveying the lucky ones who’d managed to secure a seat while they had insufficient room even to remove their coats without causing a disturbance.

“It’s not enough that they nearly crush us to death in this fucking Black Hole of Calcutta, it’s not enough that the train left 15 minutes late, now they assault us with bad grammar as well.”

“Like you’re assaulting us with your bad language you mean,” intoned Hilary calmly as she stood on his other side without raising her eyes from her book.

“At least my bad language is grammatically correct.”

“Oh, that’s alright then.”

The Nurse

“HAS HE GOT DIARRHOEA?” boomed the voice from the back of the carriage.

“Oh Christ, it’s The Nurse.”

Steve’s despairing words, redolent with self-pity, could not disguise the effects of a night’s drinking that had led to a lack of quality sleep and a row that morning with his wife Maria. Yet despite having been jerked awake and in a fragile state, Steve couldn’t resist a smile in keeping with the muted hilarity that had broken out among his fellow commuters at the utterances of the foghorn of a woman a few seats away. It’s said that the sweet tone that distinguishes a Stradivarius from a half-decent violin is not so much audible close-up, but shines through to those at the very back of the concert hall in a way the other cannot. In radio too, there are voices that manage, despite all manner of short-wave interference, to “pierce the ether”. The Nurse was the Stradivarius of ether piercers. 

The Ogre

With twenty yards to go, she heard the whistle blow. Would they let her through? Surely, they’d let her through. With 10 yards to go, she knew they wouldn’t. For, there by the gate, with his ticket machine slung round his neck stood The Ogre. Hilary’s heart sank. Just as one could guarantee that the train will never be late when you want it to be, so you can guarantee that if you arrive less than a minute before departure time, The Ogre will be on duty. She smiled as broadly as she could, raising her eyebrows in that expectant kind of way, waving her ticket in front of her and saying, “Please?” Not a chance. The Ogre said not a word, just shook his head and looked away. Hilary knew from past experience that no manner of pleading or haranguing would have the slightest effect. She could have offered him endless riches, unbounded sex; it would have made no difference.