Standing room only

With the only space on the bus next to you, standing room only, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for, to say “hello”. You’ve smiled at each other for weeks, but not one word. You don’t know his name – no-one knows each others’ names on the number 42. He shows his pass to the driver, who you think is called Alex but his badge just says ‘driver’, as if he could be anything else.

It was the same on the train, a core of familiar faces for six years, grey suits amongst black ones, Financial Times mingling with Daily Mails and Kindles, but you want this to be different.

And now he’s standing next to you, dripping wet, with his hair sticking to his head. There’s a stray hair you want to move away from his eyes, the eyes that pull you in every time they meet yours. He reminds you of Mr Darcy and you wish he’d take off his jacket so you could see how damp his shirt is.

He smiles then looks down at his shoes. You look too, knowing they’ll be one of three pairs, all black, just different stitching, all polished as if they’re going to be inspected at any moment, and they now are… by him.

He coughs and looks up. “Not good for the leather,” he says and you nod.

“Kills suede too,” you say, never imagining that those would be the first words you say to him. You wanted them to be more romantic, invite him for a coffee, lunch perhaps or a film, but you know big talk starts with small talk and even the weather as a topic thrills you. What you say next will be pivotal, you want to take your time but a woman rings the bell, moves towards the front of the bus and he’s looking at her empty seat, so you have to be quick.

You go to speak but he says, “There’s a seat there if you’d like it.”

“I’m fine, but thanks,” you reply and grip tighter on to the handrail as the bus lurches round a bend.

“Me too,” he says, and another standing passenger takes advantage, thumping down and stuffing his case between his calves.

There are only a couple of stops until you have to leave and you’re debating whether to stay on, be late for work, take the day off even, when you spot the white cable running from his right ear. “What are you listening to?”

“Classical. A bit of everything but Erik Satie at the moment.”

“Gnossienne or Gymnopédies?”

He laughs. “You know your Satie.”

“My favourite, next to Beethoven.”

“Much underrated.”

“Satie?”

He nods. “You get off at St Giles, don’t you?”

“At the top, yes.”

“Nice part of town.”

“Not too noisy.” You cringe as the talk shrinks further.

“What do you do?” he asks, as if he read your mind.

“Lawyer. Property. Pretty dull really.”

“Why dull?”

“Office-based. Little action.”

“You’d rather have your day in court?”

You laugh. “Something like that.”

Your stop approaches and you know staying on now isn’t an option. “Well, this is me.”

“It is,” he replies, then holds out his hand. “Tom Austen. See you tomorrow.”

You shake his hand and smile. “Daniel Taylor. ‘Til then.”

***

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