Tuesday, March 14, 2006

First love + Railway station

Note Here is my last assignment for the class. Sightly modified.

Howard takes advice from a Mars Bar

'Platform 11A for the 09:06 train to Peterborough. Calling at Finsbury Park, Potter's Bar, Hatfield…'

Even though he had been taking the same train to work every day for the last 4 years, Howard waited till his station was announced before setting off towards 11A. He merged in to the mass of commuters – an ominous black cloud floating down the platform. People whose taste in music, movies and preferred sexual positions varied yet nearly all of them concurred black was the chosen colour when it came to winter coats.

Howard settled down in his seat. Newspaper neatly folded on his lap, waiting to be read. Mars Bar in his pocket waiting to be consumed. Howard himself, waiting for the regulars to board the train. There was Perennial Blue Suit – so typically English that it had been almost two years of travelling together before he nodded at Howard. There was Tour de France with his cycle and Learn Spanish in a week book. He had been reading it for a month now and hadn't got beyond 'How to ask for directions'. There was Funny Girl - Asian and always laughing uproariously garnering her disapproving looks from Perennial Blue Suit. There was Essex Emily lamenting on the phone to an assortment of girlfriends about ex-lovers, tyrannical bosses and Big Brother house evictees. Howard often marvelled about how much and how little he knew of these people he spent every morning with.

After the usual safety announcements the doors shut, locking out the usual latecomers wearing the usual expression of frustration and loss. You'd think they'd be used to it by now.

As the train pulled out of King's Cross Howard tugged out the Mars Bar and studied the familiar black packaging. Familiar. The word seemed to describe every aspect of his life. His job. The view from the window he sat by. His ring tone. They were all so disgustingly predictable. Self-loathing rose up in his throat like bile.

He turned the bar around in his hands. What was their new campaign? Do something new every day? I can do better stuff than that. But you aren’t. No, instead Howard wrote copy for insurance companies. Telling people what they were entitled to if they lost an arm or an eye. That their policy didn’t cover damage caused by ‘Acts of God.’

Howard deferred reading the paper to thinking over the proposition. Maybe I could buy a different newspaper. But even as this traitorous thought crossed his mind he clutched the Daily Mail protectively. So much for that idea.

Great going mate, instead of finding something new to do you’re feeling sorry for yourself again. Crap job. No friends. A love life so pathetic he'd been convinced he was homosexual. A notion corrected after a disastrous foray into a gay chat room with the moniker Backdoorbandit.

All his other attempts at ‘getting out there’ had failed miserably. Latino dance classes where he was always without a partner, dancing humiliatingly alone. Creative writing classes where the teacher had said he needed a life to be able to write about it. A life coach who had been avoiding his calls for a month. Speed dating where his 3 minute dates had all left after 30 seconds.

Loser. His 8 year old nephew had called him one the other day. The sight of the rotund Asian couple opposite him holding hands and giggling seemed to confirm this. Even that saddo’s found someone.

"This is your driver. Looks like we're being slowed down by the train ahead of us. Apologies for any delays to your journey today."

The train finally pulled into Finsbury Park. Some of the regulars got off and a new set of familiar faces got on. Familiar. There was that bloody word again.

"I'm afraid there's going to be some delay in continuing our journey due to a signal failure at Alexandra Palace."

Howard looked out the window without really seeing anything. What could he do today? The more chocolate he ate the more reckless he felt. Yes, today would be the day. No more whingeing mate, take your life in to your own hands. What could he do? Get his nipple pierced? But nobody would it – it was too cold to go about without his shirt on. A nose ring? No, his boss would have a fit and force him to take it off.

It was as these thought bubbles rose and burst in his mind that he saw her. She was standing on a lone platform, rubbing her hands and peering down the tracks as though willing her train to appear. She wasn’t beautiful. No, she was what his mother would call ‘attractive’ - not a great looker but a nice package.

Howard had been looking at her so intently he hadn’t noticed her staring back. She smiled in the way commuters occasionally smile at one another – a hesitant, rueful upturn of the lips. Before he knew it Howard was waving at her. Her smile became tinged with embarrassment and Howard realised he was brandishing his hand like the Queen Mother. He stopped smiled sheepishly and returned his attention to the Mars Bar.

He’d bit off the penultimate chunk of chocolate when it hit him. That’s it! No she’s it! She’ll be the new thing I do today. Well not do but – she could be … what of she's the one.

He looked out and incredulously realised that she was still staring at him. Howard choked on the chocolate. God don’t kill me now and ruin the plan. .

"Ladies and gentleman, this is your driver. Sorry, but it looks like we’ll be here a little longer. I’ll update you as and when I get more information.”

Howard’s hands were trembling. Should he go over and talk to her? He wondered when the next train was. He didn’t want to have to wait half an hour for the next one. What is wrong with you? The first and possible true love of your life is standing 20 yards away and you’re worried about train timings? Just be cool. BE COOL.

The fat Asian couple were staring at him, worried. “You ok mate?” Despite Howard’s inner turmoil, it still registered how ridiculous ‘mate’ sounded in a foreign accent.

Howard nodded and ran a hand through his hair. Ok don’t fuck this up now. Maybe you could hold up a sign? What if she’s short sighted? How about waving your phone at her? And what she telepathically transmits her number to you? Get off your arse and over to that platform.

Howard stood up determined. But a sudden wave of nausea and dizziness brought him tumbling back in to his seat. The last thing he wanted was to leave half digested porridge on her shoes. Be a man for God’s sake. Howard cringed as his father’s voice boomed in his head. He inhaled deeply and began counting very slowly till 10.

It was somewhere between 4 and 5 that Howard realised it was not nerves but the rhythmic motion of the train that was making him sway. Finsbury Park and Howard’s shot at true love were long gone and had been replaced by blurry images of the every day. Howard shook his head and made up his mind. I’ll buy The Guardian when I get to work.


Karthik said...


It reads like one of those short stories by Jeffrey Archer. On second thought, I take that back - it reminds me most of Sujatha: the weak man who'll do nothing to disturb status quo is a theme he's dealt with so often.

B o o said...

Wow! Awesome Shufy! Where do you get such great ideas for stories? Its really superb. I dont know whats with this hesitation thing. I hate that about myself. I spend so much time thinking that I just leave the chance to actually do something.This one time on a cruise in Thames, I spent 3 hours thinking how to approach a girl who looked like my sisters college mate. I told myself theres no chance I wud meet her there and did nt even say Hi to her. And then, I go home and call my sister and she tells me that its her and then we mailed each other! Oh God!I AM HOWARD!

venkat said...

Good stuff. The one thing I might have shuffled around with - that para where you set up the fact that he is a "loser" (Latino stuff/speed dates etc.) - it might work better with that info scattered across the story instead of all it in one spot. Maybe...I am just thinking out aloud here..

venkat said...

one more thing...I see funky euro and trademark characters all over your site? Is it a Mozilla thing or is everyone getting this?!

1$ Saint said...

dai....was dat me?
except i take local autos n buses..
lolz...i wish dint i?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Neat story, particularly well-written Have you seen a film called Sliding Doors?

I would suggest that you re-work the last four or five paragraphs. They could be a lot tighter, the denouement could have a little more impact.


None said...


that made me smile! so going to creative writing class makes sense, eh? :)


Primalsoup said...

Sometimes Status Quo is good, especially when it is articulated like this. Don't know if this is fiction/ autobiographical, but reads very well.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Karthik - Thanks.

boo - I think there's a bit of Howard in all of us!

Venkat - Thanks. I kept those bits together so that they were dealt with and out of the way. having the spread across the story might be a distraction. But will try that. I have no idea why those symbols appear. It's so annoying. Any suggestions?

cnoto - As far as I can tell you have no problems approaching attractive women on mass transit vehicles :P

J.A.P - Thank you! I've edited the last four paras as suggested. And you were right (why do I have a feling you always are?) there was a lot of stuff I didn't need. Hope it reads better now!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

none - welcome! Glad you liked it and yes the classes have def helped!

primal soup - not autobiographical, but a lot of the train regulars are people on my daily commute!

WA said...

Wonderfully written Shoefie, at times I was almost there on the train to Peterborough and yup like Boo I saw parts of myself too in Howard

Falstaff said...

Shoefiend: Nice, though I think you're capable of better. I think the overall idea is really good, but the story could do with more editing (e.g: a) paragraph 7: "thinking over the proposition" - what proposition? so far he's just been comparing the Mars Bar slogan to stuff he does, he hasn't set himself the task of finding something new to do; b) para 17: "what of she's the one?" - presumably a typo) plus I think the interest in the woman is too sudden (para 18 - "God don't kill me now and ruin the plan" - what plan? he doesn't have one at this point) you need more of a trigger or a longer lead in. The way it is now, I sense the frustration and ennui of Howard but don't find his interest in this woman credible - it feels too much like a literary device.

Don't get me wrong - it's still a good story, it's just that I've seen you do better for this class. You're capable of being more careful and more exact than this.

thennavan said...

Kind of interesting we both have a mention of Mars on the same day (and not entirely out of context either ;-)).

dazedandconfused said...

Really liked it. But had the feeling all along that Howard was not going to do anything about the girl he saw. Was that intended?

TomCruiseChellum said...

Pramadam is the word that comes to mind.
One can also say "Pinnitte, po"
I dont want to analyse and comment. Just the feeling of "Pramadaman writing" is good enough.
Let the analysts analyse while the stock price goes up.
Enna olaral?

shub said...

oh wow! really delightful! :)

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

wicked angel - Thanks a lot! The train is more familiar to me than I'd like it to be!

Falstaff - I put my stories up so I can get feedback and that's what you've given me. No offence taken whatsoever. I think with this story and the previous one if I'd made them longer and spent more time on the inner workings of my characters the stories would have worked better. It is something I'm planning to do - go back to my assignments and spin them in to better stories.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

thennavan - haven't seen your post yet! will do

dazed - What I wanted to come across was the fact that even though he didn't go for the girl it didn't effect his life majorly -she was a passing whim if you will?

tcc, shub - gracias!

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