by Will Burns
It was early in December, a couple of years ago. I was walking up to the train station, the streets covered in icy snow – packed down hard on the well trodden pavements, but still light, deep and crisp on the verges and rooftops. I turned right into Station Approach, and headed down the slight incline of the road, entering the ticket office at the bottom. There was a queue and I joined at the end, standing behind an old man. The old man was wearing a tweed jacket, with worn leather patches on the elbows, of which the right one was starting to become un-stitched along the top. He had on a brown hat that he wore at an angle, tilting downwards on the right side of his head.
The old man’s turn came at the ticket window and he bought two returns to London, turning away from the hatch and crossing the small, dingy ticket office, depressed as it was by an air of cold and a dirty, sopping wet floor. The man walked over to an elderly woman who was sitting on the metal seats along the back wall. She was heavily made up, with rouged cheeks and she wore a fur coat that hid slightly her bulky frame. The old man handed her one of the tickets and she deftly opened her snap lock purse, with its silver delicate chain draped over her left wrist, and slid the ticket inside with the same hand. She pulled the chain a little further back up her arm, and wriggled into her seat. The man leant down and gave her a kiss on the forehead. She smiled up at him and took his left hand in hers. I bought my ticket, and left the office to wait on the platform for the train.
In London, after I had done the one or two things I needed to, I met Cooper in a pub near Covent Garden. We had two drinks, and then we left the pub, heading towards Soho and some dinner. We walked up through the piazza, and turned west onto Longacre. Just after we passed the turning north into Langley St, out of the crowd of people all carrying shopping bags and dressed in coats, hats, scarves and gloves, I saw the old couple from the station. They were walking, arm in arm, towards us. As they approached, the elderly woman caught and steadily held my gaze. She was tall, and held herself extremely upright. She was close when I saw her eyes – like two bright violet gemstones shining out of the greys and browns of the city and winter clothing that surrounded them. She smiled at me, and they passed us.
“Who was that?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” I said. “I saw them at the train station, that’s all.”
I looked back down the street and saw the pair walking, still arm in arm, and then disappear again into the crowd and the lowering light of the evening. I was struck suddenly by the sense of people; a whole body of people, all going out – eating, drinking, laughing. Or maybe they were all going to a show. Going to see all that humanity and life, recreated, night after night…
By actors and actresses, made up and masked and played out on the stage.