THE SATURDAY TRAIN
The summer was coming to an end, giving way to the chill of autumn but today the sun shone.
Thank goodness it’s Saturday, Gemma thought, as she packed her rucksack. She’d been working on storyboards for a particularly tricky series of ads all week. If only the clients didn’t keep changing their minds then perhaps I could keep up, she thought.
She made her way to the station to catch the train to Primrose Hill where she planned to do some sketching. There was a light breeze and the fresh air would blow the cobwebs away.
She sighed and breathed in air warm and fragrant with possibilities. She had nothing else planned for the weekend. The usual Saturday girls’ night out, with four of her friends had slow but surely fallen by the wayside as one by one each of them hooked up with boyfriends. Only Gemma was left. She’d split up with Jeremy months ago and now weekends felt as barren as a desert.
Gemma enjoyed the Saturday train. It wasn’t like the weekday train, not crowded with swaying passengers hanging on to the rails as the train lurched rushing, packed hot and sweaty to its destination. The Saturday train was more friendly, people more relaxed, smiling even. She found a seat next to a woman who was attempting to read the story of the three pigs to her two children. The children were fidgeting and bouncing on the seats. Every now and then they’d take a biscuit from the packet on the woman’s lap. Then they’d take a drink from the bottles of juice they were holding. They counted stations to their destination out loud, and Gemma counted them too.
She sat back with a sigh when they got off.
She carried her sketchpad on her lap and put her rucksack on the floor by her feet. In her red pedal pushers and sparkly flip-flops she felt relaxed and happy as she watched the people on the train. Gemma was an observer of people. Sometimes she’d weave fantasies about them, warm and romantic or dark and sinister, distressing even in their final outcomes. The young girl with her friend was shopping for her bridal outfit to marry an Arab Prince and live in Saudi Arabia. The young man in Arsenal strip would be going for a trial in the Premiership rather than a kick about in the park, and the elderly lady surrounded by bags was going to see her grandchildren for the last time before they emigrated to Australia.
Sometimes she’d give the other passengers starring roles in her favourite classic movies. A stocky man with a moustache was Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, a slim chap with slicked back hair was Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon and a silver-haired gentleman was George Clooney in any of his films. Gemma loved movies. In fact she’d tried to persuade her boss to use movie clips in their campaign for after-shave but he’d insisted on the macho, action man sporting hero image.
She was shocked back to reality when a bunch of lads got on, shouting and jostling each other. She closed her eyes against the noise and shook her head at her discomfort. They made her feel old. Still, she was relieved when they got off at the next station, bursting from the train like peas bursting out of a pod. You meet all sorts on the Saturday train, she thought.
A man boarded the train, bringing with him the fresh citrus tang of limes. Hmm, interesting, Gemma thought. He settled into the seat opposite. I bet he works out, Gemma thought noticing his broad shoulders and muscular arms beneath an immaculate rugby shirt. He pulled up his jeans at the knees before sitting down, as though wearing a suit.
He started to read the newspaper he had brought with him. It was pink. Someone had once told her that it was pink because it was meant for ladies to read. That made her smile. He glanced up and smiled back. His eyes were like sparklers on bonfire night and a tingle, like an electric current, ran down her spine. All rational thought sped from her mind.
She shifted her gaze to her reflection in the window as the train thundered through a tunnel, fixing her eyes on the red scarf that held her long dark hair away from her face but they were soon drawn back to the vision in front of her.
He must be about the same age as Jeremy, she thought but unlike Jeremy there was a presence about him. Clean-shaven with a tumble of dark hair falling over his forehead, his face was lightly tanned. She noticed his hands holding the newspaper. Strong hands, she thought. Silver rings adorned two fingers of each hand and his left thumb. On his wrist he wore a silver watch with a face of iridescent blue. She guessed his appearance must be important to his job. Although his clothes were immaculate the way he rested one leather-booted ankle on the opposite knee made him look casual and relaxed.
She tried to place him in one of her favourite movies but he didn’t fit. What would he be? A managerial position perhaps? CEO or something. She tried to picture him behind a desk but that didn’t work either. And why would he be on the train? She tried to visualise him in the back of a limo – that felt better. Still, he had a tan. He didn’t get that sitting in an office.
He was wearing a rugby shirt – was he on his way to a match. She couldn’t imagine it. He was too smart for rugby, although broad enough in the shoulder.
He had a style of his own, she decided and opened up her sketchpad.
Just an outline of a man sitting on a train reading a newspaper.
Then, as her mind began to wander she visualised him swimming in the sea, bare-chested, torso glistening in the sun. Before she knew what she was doing she’d sketched him emerging from the surf, tousle-haired and grinning, like Ross Poldark.
She smiled to herself when she realised what she’d done and wrote “One for the Album” on the paper before ripping it out and folding it carefully. She shook her head and chided herself for such an outrageous fantasy.
As the train neared her station she gathered her things together. Then a wicked thought crossed her mind.
Why not? I’ll never see him again, she thought. Her breathing imperceptibly quickened and she felt wobbly at the knees. She felt the blood rush to her temples and an uncontrollable thrill went through her body.
As she passed his seat she dropped the paper into his lap, almost accidentally, before springing, laughing, from the train. Her mirth carried her through the rest of the day.
Monday morning Gemma was at work sketching the storyboard for the Sporting Hero After-Shave promotion when her boss came in.
“This is Gemma, one of our illustrators. Gemma, I’d like you to meet Dominic, our new Creative Director”.
She looked up. Heat flooded up to her face and exploded crimson on her cheeks. She wished she could melt invisibly into the floor. Her heart pounded like surf breaking over rocks.
“Hi, so I guess you love historical drama,” he smiled.
She was looking into the bluest pair of sparkling eyes she’d ever seen. His face was lightly tanned and he had a small scar under his right eye. She hadn’t noticed that on the Saturday train.
If you enjoyed this story there are plenty more in my short story collections here.