The 5.05 from London Town back to the sticks is packed. Why so? It’s the fastest train in the universe. Only the front five coaches of this straight-lined serpent are going to Bournemouth. Those aiming for Brockenhurst, Hinton Admiral, New Milton and any other rural non-entities are obliged to pay the price of choosing to live in the back of beyond and sit at the rear where their carriages will be ignominiously detached at Southampton in readiness for the crawl home whilst we speed onwards.
I choose a seat at the front of the fifth coach with plenty of room for my poor legs that have passed the day squashed into something resembling half their natural length by lack of activity. My precious resting sanctuary bears a sign that instructs me to offer it freely to anyone who arrives with a disability. It would be difficult to discern who this might be – the area in front is filled with folk who have found the bar and the tables become increasingly filled with almost-empty cans of lager. Men in smart suits complain when the train jerks and the unexpected remaining contents spill over their pristine Italian shoes.
A young couple materialise. They are weighed down by copious baggage and a small child of about three years named Eva. Eva smiles at me and I am surprised. Small children are not naturally or normally drawn in my direction: they are astute enough to notice the pointed black hat I wear. Eva wears a purple jumper, a blue denim skirt, blue tights with pink spots, brown boots and has the biggest head in the world. The top of her head is normal and she’s a pretty girl but something has gone wrong under her mouth. The place where her jaws and chin might normally reside is taking over.
Eva has been to the hospital in London Town. She gurgles a lot. Loudly. Around her neck she wears a band, attached to which is a tube. At regular intervals, one or other of her parents unpacks the bag and selects a freshly anaesthetised wire which they fasten to the tube to drain the blockage that is causing the gurgle. The parents choose to stand amongst the lager drinkers and converse with each other. Eva and I sit together. I’m reading Our Mutual Friend. Eva is watching and listening to videos on her dad’s phone through a set of bright pink headphones. I lean towards her and she to me. Our Mutual Comfort.
We speed through the black night, occasionally illuminated by the lights of queuing cars on passing roads or ghost-like stations at which no-one will ever disembark. The man with the expensive shoes asks the lager drinkers whether they will remove their empty cans. I wonder whether the space where Eva’s chin should be will become so large that it will, at some point, stop her eating.