The railway line stretches into infinity. A bank of grey cloud hangs like a faded sheet above our heads. Recent rain renders the embankments lush and green. Swollen streams gush through verdant fields. The hills beyond are shrouded in purple mist. Elder flowers shine creamily in the gathering gloom.
‘Is this seat taken?’
I shift my briefcase and overcoat to let the woman sit next to me. I regard my new travelling companion with interest.
She is around sixty, skinny as a skinny latte, with cheekbones as gaunt as knitting needles. The skin around her chin is map-folded with age and her elfin ears sport gold starfish studs. Her dyed auburn hair is swept severely back into a pony-tail.
She is dressed in a modest white top and a long, pleated black skirt. Her pipe-cleaner legs are encased in dark tights and her feet in ugly tan shoes. She has elegant arms and wrists but coruscated hands. Her long, spatulate fingers are devoid of rings, and her fingernails are carefully cut short and almost square.
She is clean as a fire-engine and mysterious as a seraph. Her maquillage is that of a younger woman. She has lost her colour and has had to regain it from the bottom of a jar. She frowns darkly. She reads a newspaper as if it were in Braille. She is puzzled; the world has defied her. She’s lonely now, ploughing a silent furrow, sporting just one hook on the bathroom door. She grimaces; she has read enough. How many policemen do we really need? I sit silent, knowing that these few moments will be the last I’ll ever see of her, and she will die one day, somewhere in the nether regions of middle-classdom, and I won’t even know.