I was trying to discover whether I had ever written about ID cards for the Guardian and this fell out of the filing system. Notes made on a train out of Liverpool Street, some night last year.
Across the aisle a large, largely shaven-headed man in track suit bottoms and a blue plastic windbreaker is talking with drunken concentration into his mobile phone. “Shatterday then. If you’re not there, I won’t worry.” Then he gets up to try to walk to the loo, still talking, and kicks the seat opposite, which falls right off onto the floor. “Oh shit“, he says, in tones of such absolute disgust that his whole life might have been leading down to this moment. He subsides on the seat, and starts talking again, loudly, and fervently, into his mobe.
The Indian woman opposite me looks up with the loveliest smile budding on her lips; she has being trying not to giggle out loud at the discussion ever since we left Liverpool Street. I’m locked into this desperate silent complicity with her. Both of us trying not to giggle.
Things get worse when the train stops at Tottenham Hale and a woman with an Irish face walks down the aisle locked in urgent conversation with her mobile phone. As she swings into the one seat opposite the drunk, stepping past the empty metal framework, she says, forcefully and distinctly. “she’s not going to sleep with you. I’m telling you. She’s not going to sleep with you — “
I pull the laptop out. The Indian woman looks as if she is going to burst. While I start typing, both the Irish girl and the drunk finish their conversatiuons, look around, and start talking to each other as if the conversation had been going on for years: “Where are you working now? she asks.
“God, that sounds awful”
The Indian woman pulls out a stack of Eid cards from her shopping bag and starts to look through them. The stud in her nose glitters in the yellow neon. She turns to watch the Irish girl with a look of secret, burgeoning delight.
Next to me, a man with greying, distinguished hair, is passed out. White, well-ventilated plugs sit in his ears. He might be a solicitor or an accountant; all is lost in the exhaustion of a commuter train.
The Irish girl too soon passes out. Her skin is very pale; her eyelashes almost black ; her eyelids covered in plum-coloured mascara.
By Harlow, the whole excitement is over.