On NYE I caught the train from St Peters in to Town Hall at about ten in the evening. Flynn and I got into the end carriage and sat down on the same bench as two burly, mean-looking blokes. Of course, I was immediately forced to eat my own prejudice, for the moment we sat down the man next to us introduced both himself and his friend to Flynn, asking him what our plans were for the night. I didn’t catch their names. The man closest to us was missing some teeth. I could not focus on the conversation he was having with his mate as I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the couple sitting opposite us, who were clearly travelling with these two.
He was swaying in a two second lag behind the train. His head drooped like it was too much weight for his neck to bear – almost like heroin-dropsy. He was very tall, angular; the kind of skinny where the absence of fat lets you see the inner workings of the body, like looking through a glass-bottom boat. All the veins, tendons, beating pulse-points, much of which was covered with a full spectrum of inky tattoos. He was bald, or very closely shaved. Shorts, white singlet, longish white socks falling down, sneakers.
With him was a woman I don’t think I will ever forget. She was biggish and wore short denim shorts and a tight pale pastel green singlet. She had thongs on. Her hair has stayed with me the most. I think it must have originally been blonde and she’d died it dark. Her light roots left the impression that her hairline was receding.
She loved this man. He was clearly coming down with something. I offered her my water for him but she politely declined. He tried a swig of lemon ruski instead, which she balanced delicately underneath her seat and in one smooth motion forced him to lie his head in her lap, his feet lifted above him against the carriage wall (this on the advice of our toothless friend). She had fake fingernails, which I watched as she soothed him.
Once he closed his eyes she joined in the conversation with the other blokes. A name was mentioned by one of them, to which she quickly fired
“What do you think of him?”
“Yeah, he’s a bit of a scumbag. Why? Do you know him?”
“He’s the father of my daughter.”
“No, I think he’s a scumbag too. I should know. He slapped me around for four years.”
Now, my memory has failed me here. She did not say slapped but said instead a word that took my breath away. With this one exchange, and with the man she held in her arms, her life was filling the carriage like gas, a train-shaped snapshot of muscled love and survival.
I wish that I’d heard her name.