Dashing down the stairs at Paddington underground station to see a train waiting at the platform with doors invitingly open, she dithered for a second trying to see some sign that it was the one she needed before jumping through the doors into a surprisingly sparsely populated carriage. Suddenly assailed by doubt over the possible direction of travel she turned and exited only to hear the words “…to Kings Cross..” from the tannoy.
Gracefully for once, she continued the turn and re-entering the carriage placed her bags down with a sheepish grin directed at the guy who had crossed glances with her just before the doors closed. Normally she wouldn’t notice people on the tube beyond a dismissive ‘cute’ or ‘nice hair’ or ‘I wonder where she got those earrings’, but this guy had definitely caught her eye, not just in the ‘eyes met across a room’ sense but in the ‘WOW he’s NIIII-IIII-IIIICE’ sense, so much so that she made a conscious effort to look in every direction but his; berating herself for smiling at him.
“Don’t talk to people on the tube” a lecture she’d heard many times from the father of her child. He disapproved of the ease with which she would initiate conversation with total strangers not seeming to realise that connecting with people was as natural as breathing – it was sustaining that contact over time that was difficult.
Despite knowing which direction this train was now headed she made a detailed study of the already familiar route the circle line would take, practically sounding out the remaining stops before Kings Cross in order to avoid the natural inclination her head seemed to have acquired in wanting to turn right. The target of this distraction continued to lounge across the seat and it seemed to her overly sensitive imagination that he was trying to reconnect that first glance by sheer force of will or personality but she held firm and continued to look elsewhere and put that imagination to better use, mentally scolding herself for such misplaced vanity.
Bracing against the swaying of the carriage she straightened up and pictured herself the captain of some marvellous ship – a space ship of course, it could be nothing else surrounded by metal and clanking and fluorescent lighting as she was. She imagined the current surroundings peeling away to reveal a scene of wonder and excitement before curiosity over what other passengers may imagine during their journey home brought her back to her real surroundings just as the door slid open onto Edgware road allowing other passengers to board.
From the corner of her eye she could see the guy looking in her direction but he could have been studying her or the reflection in the window behind her, without turning to see she couldn’t know for sure which it was. She pictured his face again as it had appeared when she entered the train, the look of almost shocked recognition and something else. As she struggled to categorise the emotion she wondered why it was so hard to decipher “hmm… Maybe he’d just been holding in a fart” she mentally chuckled to herself, whatever it was it was a little unnerving and poking fun was the easiest way to deal with the strange sensation that look had brought.
When the train started slowing down for the Kings Cross station the object of her thoughts suddenly got up and in a swift movement stood directly behind her, the swaying of the carriage for a single instant pressing him against her back. She wondered at his closeness as the carriage, despite the time of day, was not the usual rush hour sardine tin she had been expecting …and was it her imagination or did he seem to be sniffing her? Uncomfortably aware of her fragrant state due to the rushed journey from Bristol, she picked up her oversize shoulder bag and prepared her rolling overnight case for a swift exit and turned decisively to face him in order to forestall any pickpocketing attempt, he recoiled slightly backwards and seems to lose his balance and then she realised that his eyes which at first glance had seemed a startling blue were in fact red rimmed and the hair she had initially pegged as a dirty blonde was in fact a very white feathery mass of tufted curls, the shadows cast by the tube causing her earlier mistake as to the colour. “Ah…” She thought “…maybe he’s ill, or drunk” as he staggered a little to retain his balance in the swaying compartment. Almost as though he’d read her thought he shrugged backwards to stand as close to the doors as was physically possible allowing her some more space then, as they opened, he hesitated for a second before stepping out.
She had been scanning the walls as the train pulled in for signs to show the direction she needed to walk and striding confidently past him headed straight for the railway station, slightly relieved when he seemed to swing in the opposite direction before being lost in the crowds behind her.
That would probably have been the last he crossed her mind if she then didn’t suddenly glimpse him again from the corner of her eye, this time he was slightly ahead of her, how he had managed that without actually walking past her in the narrow tunnel seemed strange but dodging through the crowd, her small compact form aiding in speeding through the foot traffic she soon left him behind again.
Walking into Kings cross rail station she found the sardine tin effect previously expected yet not encountered on the tube, the crowd gathered before the departure board was swelling by the second as each train showed the dreaded delayed or cancelled notice. “Typical” She thought, glancing around for a coffee shop or somewhere to sit, as the voice over the tannoy announced there had been damaged overhead power lines and a blocked track along a main route ending any chance of a train for the foreseeable.
Her eye was caught by a shock of white blonde hair to her right and she glanced up to find yet another man meeting her gaze, very similar in both dress and looks to the guy from the carriage, her initial thought was “there he is again” until she realised this one was a little younger, his features not quite as chiselled; though seeing the same coat, bag, hair style and expression she forgave herself instantly for the mistake. Then he glanced away and the moment was gone but she couldn’t help feeling that once again there had been an instance of sniffing despite the distance separating them. Feeling distinctly put out with her overactive imagination she rang home to explain the travel situation before walking over to information in order to enquire about changing her ticket.
Relieved to find that she would not have to wait for hours or travel too far along the tube she instead made her way across to St Pancras in order to catch a train to St Albans where her lift would be waiting. While standing at the end of platform B she saw in disbelief another white blond head coming towards her through the crowd, her mental comparison of similar coat and bag suddenly had her heart pounding in an irrational wave of emotion – excitement or fear she really couldn’t tell but an impression of being prey washed over her as she raised her eyes back to his face only to receive a shock as what had initially appeared to be white blonde hair became a dull brown. “I need my mind AND my eyes checked” she thought as he walked past her without a glance. “Of course I’d see people in the concourse who got off the tube at the station and c’mon, fashionable coats all look alike and everyone has those messenger style bags now” the pep talk helped a little and she ignored the niggly little voice in the back of her head whispering that yes, many coats and bags looked alike but that guy had definitely been blonde when he walked towards you.
Keeping an eye on the scheduled time and angling towards the most likely spot on the platform she continued her mental pep talk “Because, yeah, shape shifters and illusionists and all those things in those books you like to read are really real and suddenly YOU have caught the attention of the beautiful creatures and the world of darkness will be yours. Yeah, right…” Mentally continuing in this vein as the train pulled in and she and her fellow passengers boarded, she sighed wistfully at the reflection of herself displayed by the window “Oh yeah, almost 40, mumsy traveller with the oversize shapeless jacket and the functional glasses, of COURSE you’d be the one to call ‘em out of the woodwork.”
Deciding that her moment of vain fancy had passed she allowed herself to indulge in a ‘what if’ daydream; how would she feel if she was suddenly yanked into an existence where she would never be able to see her daughter again, where she couldn’t explain to the father of her child why she’d vanished and left them alone. Shuddering at the thought she mentally bathed herself in the love and contentment she had waiting for her at home and pictured again little moments from her memory archive of her daughters first “mumma” and the joy they together as a couple shared in watching her grow into the forceful little wench she was becoming. For a few seconds this beat away the fanciful moments of her London journey but then she started to feel dissatisfaction creep in, “what if I had the power to learn in a night what takes me years to do now? These memories would still make me feel the same way if I left now” Picking the ‘best’ fictional entries from her books she concocted a view of a world in which she sacrificed the life she knew in order to gain all the knowledge she had ever dreamed of, where she could walk the night without fear, where she had no more pain or weakness to contend with. A world where she was strong and in control but loved passionately by an equally strong man (a ridiculously beautiful strong man of course – though one who didn’t glitter in the sunlight) who would listen and appreciate and act upon her opinions or advice.
She could use her newfound knowledge to create things to help ease the world’s ills, to stop the pollution, the water shortage, the violence “Hang on” She thought, “If I were a creature of the night, suddenly able to do anything I wanted, why would I care about mankind’s problems?”
The slowing of the train jolted her from her reverie and once again confronted by her less than stunning appearance sighed wistfully. “forget your looks and age and all that crap, where was I?“ she mentally catalogued different ideas picked from authors such as Laurell K Hamilton, Lynsay Sands and Charlaine Harris and even Stephanie Meyer and said to herself “You know what, if emotions and feelings are enhanced with this change then I’d care even more about things, I LIKE helping people now so I’d probably like it even more then” Then as the train pulled into St Albans and she prepared to depart another thought struck her
“Hang on, what if it was my daughter they could smell and they’re following me to get to her because she’s some kind of ‘chosen one’ who is destined to do miraculous things” a wave of fierce protectiveness rose up in her and subsided just as quickly. “Actually, if they could help her to meet her potential then so long as I get to be involved would it really matter if it’s for the good of the world?” she mused to herself, turning the idea around. Punching the call button for the lift she finally shook her shoulders and as the doors closed behind her she consigned such thoughts to the ether and returned to the world in which the car containing the family she loved would soon be arriving to transport her home.