‘It’s like the film Being John Malkovich, innit?’ he said to the man standing over him. And then he remembered that the man didn’t speak his language. So he asked it again, this time in the man’s national tongue. The man’s response was ‘What?’ except it wasn’t exactly ‘What?’ because it wasn’t said in English. But it meant ‘What?’
‘You wouldn’t get it,’ he said, reaching down into the side pocket of his bag that sat between his feet and pulling out his ticket, which he handed to the man. The man took it, crossed it with a biro, handed it back, and carried on down the carriage. He turned his head to the left to stare out of the window, to lose himself on the distant horizon, to be taken there by the current and left to float over the edge, peacefully on his back, he imagined a bottomless waterfall, perpetual motion, the eternal drop. Would it be noisy, he wondered. What did it matter? He’d get used to it. That’s what you do; you get used to stuff. He had forgotten that it was past ten at night, that the sun had long since set, that the window at his side now only served as a mirror, revealing his surroundings, bright under the train’s lightbulbs, as it rolled along the tracks that hugged the shore line. He fought the temptation to check his reflection, he knew what he looked like; tired. And empty. But mostly tired. He didn’t need reminding. His eyes looked older than they were. As luck would have it, the rest of him didn’t. Not that it mattered. There were people, about eight in total, sharing the carriage with him. Eight other humans, possibly nine, and not a sound to be heard. Not a voice. Not a laugh. Not a sniff. Not a shuffling of papers. Not an itchy arse being scratched on a seat. Just faces looking at mobile screens. Or in the case of one lady, looking at the backs of eyelids. She was asleep. But she wasn’t resting her head on anything. She sat upright. And she dozed peacefully. He thought this must have taken training.
The woman sat opposite him was also surveying the scene via the reflection in the window. Their eyes met in the glass. She had nice hair, he thought, and pretty eyes, hooded, deep. No make-up. None needed. She didn’t smile, she wasn’t a smiler. He used to be. She just looked into his reflected eyes. The glass a bulldozer to the social No No wall that existed in the physical. Without the glass to act as a filter, this kind of behavior would not be acceptable. You do not stare at strangers on public transport. It’s bad form. She had started it, though.
He shifted his gaze to the rail map above the door at the end of the carriage, turned up the music and returned to thinking about the film Being John Malkovich. A small smile had spread to the woman’s lips. He could feel it without looking. He looked anyway just to confirm it. And because he couldn’t help himself. He imagined that she could read his thoughts. The down-on-his luck puppeteer who enters the small door hidden behind the filing cabinet and finds himself in John Malkovich’s mind. Skipping border control. Entering another human. Seeing how they live. How they cope. Feeling them. And then being ejected. Dropped from the air into a ditch. It’s the metaphor for life, he thought, I’ve sussed it. The woman walks into the room, he doesn’t know her, she looks flawless, butter wouldn’t melt, not a hair out of place, she knows that her every move is being followed discreetly and not so discreetly by the men, she doesn’t care, or she acts like she doesn’t care, she loves it, he doesn’t look at her. She sits at his table. They talk. He makes her laugh. She shows him what she wants to, keeps from him what she doesn’t. He does the same. More drinks are ordered. The chemistry. Energy. Breaking point. They haven’t touched. But their eyes have already completed the meet and greet. They shine. More drinks are ordered. She invites him back to hers. Clothes are being discarded before they’re in the door. He enters her. They create music together. Three hours ago she didn’t exist. Now he is in her atmosphere. He’s inside her. Completely submerged. A guest. In her body. In her mind. In her life. In her room. Her room looks like every other single woman’s of similar years. Her bathroom as clean. Her dinner habits as lazy. He sees that she is human. Like him. Like all the others. That she is worried about morning breath and holds up a pillow when saying good morning. Bringing new meaning to the term pillow talk. That she is self-conscious. Damaged. Still learning. Just like everyone else. Perhaps slightly more beautiful. Perhaps slightly uglier. Depending on who you ask. Night turns into day. Day turns into night. Night turns into day. And then the dull thud as his body connects with the ditch. The battle to retain the memory. Someone’s padlocked the door from the inside. There’ll be another one. There always is.
The woman shifted her legs, brushing his knee. The smile was still there. She was beautiful. ‘What’s the point?’ he thought, ‘What’s the point? Another digestive system to pass through. Sweetcorn. What is the point?’ He closed his eyes.