I’m facing the wrong way on the train. I can’t look out the window because watching the scenery flash by backwards makes me nauseous. Instead, I let my eyes wander over the people in the carriage. I see a man reading. He is holding the book up so that I can see the cover. He is the only person reading a book. I want to get up and go and sit next to him. I want to ask him about his book. Is it a good read? What does he think about the author? Has he read any more of her work? Does he prefer real live books over the electronic kind?
He is wearing a suit. Grey with a white shirt and no tie. His hair is cropped short and dark. He is wearing black rimmed glasses, the ones that ‘hipsters’ wear. He shifts his legs and I catch a glimpse of bright red socks. Now I really want to go sit next to him.
He turns a page in his book and his face shifts towards me. I instantly look away, I don’t want him to catch me staring. I wait a few seconds then peak at him through my eyelashes. He hasn’t lifted his eyes from his book. I return to my staring, methodically cataloguing every detail of him that I can. I want to remember him. For the simple reason that he is reading a real live book and he’s wearing red socks.
I consider again getting up to sit next to him, but I’m stopped by both my inability to converse with strangers in any way more meaningful than a half smile and a nod and my fervent belief in train etiquette. It’s why I’m sitting backwards, the train etiquette - although it could also be my inability to converse with strangers. But mostly, it’s the etiquette. There were only backwards facing seats left when I got on the train, all the forward facing seats had at least one passenger, and it’s train etiquette that prevents me from taking the second spot in a forwards facing seat when there are empty backwards facing seats. It’s train etiquette that saw me take a backwards facing seat, despite the fact it would absolutely result in a horrible train trip for me. It’s the same etiquette that means I cannot sit next to red socks man.
He shifts again, turning a page in his real live book and I watch him. The conductor calls the next station. It’s not mine and I really hope it’s not his. He folds down a corner in his book and my heart jumps; I fold down corners too! The train slows as it approaches the station and he closes the book, folding it into his lap. He looks out the window and I know he is getting off when the train stops.
I hear the whistle of train, sharp and brittle and I quickly avert my eyes as he stands and moves out of his seat. He steps into the aisle and adjusts his jacket, the book clenched in his hand. The train stops at the station and he quickly walks towards the door, I want to turn my head, but train etiquette. Instead I look outside the window and watch him walk past on the platform. Still clutching his book on his hand. I should have sat next to him. Train etiquette be damned. The train whistle goes again, and the carriage starts to move. I press my face against the glass watching the grey suit until I can no longer see him. I should have asked him about his book. I should have asked him about words. I should have asked him about his red socks. I should have sat next to him. I should have.