The Life Chronicles: “Never Ask A Stranger On A Coach Why They’re Crying”

He is travelling from home to a weekend with his girlfriend. Crammed in a window seat on the coach after running for his London connection. In a pair of jeans and a pale green shirt. Thirty-eight with flecks of grey hair rising in the arches of his hairline like new rot. He holds a copy of a Sunday Times Bestseller in one hand, and in the other, his phone. He sips a coffee from the fold out tray in front of him. Alert to the goings on out of the coach window, he turns to face inwards for one moment; and in that moment catches the eye of the girl sat next to him on the aisle seat, pressed up to her sports bag as though it were a life source. In the moment they make eye contact he sees that she is crying. Crystal tears building like soap suds in her eyes. She looks away and stares at the blue lights on the ceiling of the coach. And he wonders why she is crying. It’s unusual to cry on public transport, he thinks to himself.

Maybe, maybe it’s the inescapable torrent of memories in her head. Things that never were or things that cannot be. An adolescence which does not exist. The grating of fingernails wanting to find give in the grout of the bathroom tiles. Gritty and searching.

Maybe it’s the way that locking her jaw together feels like biting cement. The greying of circles under her eyes which is only noticeable when you place two passports side by side. When every year she is away, ageing feels like toppling over a cliff. The blue lights on the coach where she watches the slits of rain pelt sideways making the world turn on its dizzying axis.

Or the lover she leaves in ruins when trains beg of her presence. The ones who will stare at the ceiling with their left hand in the empty space beside them, ripples on the bedsheets. Because being beside someone is a luxury only ever spanning the nighttime.

The way she weaves her hair into braids in the mornings, knowing full well that each day ahead beckons aching melancholy and a cataclysmic amount of mascara. The way in which she sits starchy bowls of pasta in a sieve, watching the water escape through the holes before it dissipates to steam.

The way in which she sinks in the bathroom. The bathwater is grief and the walls are tiled with loss. Succumbing to the steam and risings temperatures. Pink flesh oozing sin.

The way the friction on the banister of a set of stairs sticks her hand to the chipped paint, intermittent jumping movements working down four flights. Then she is amid London cranes and skyscrapers, but suffers from vertigo.

Or how strangers in trench coats smell like burnt toast and stale piss when they seat themselves next to her on the tube. She hears their thoughts brandish her strange, so she bites back and calls them strange too, but only in her head. She notes mismatched socks and leather boots, and maintains eye contact until they look away.

The way in which faces seem to melt under the British rain, like Dali’s clocks. The rains which fall like sheets in which she wraps herself up. Sodden and screaming.

Like denim jackets which smell of damp in the morning because she hasn’t got a waterproof. Two train tickets in one pocket and a set of exotic rings in the other. The aching arches of her feet which tread against the same trainers. Two holes on the toe and on the left foot the sole is worn through. How self-expression is stifled.

The groan of a printer pulsing out passes and ticket pieces. Heaving out journeys with monochrome ink. Like suitcases left at the port when she calls lost property asking for her belongings back, shuddering down the phone, seeking safety.

The way in which day-long journeys give her backache from craning to one side to view the gush of greenery. How she banks on window seats and first choices, because anything else feels like being closed in a cupboard.

Perhaps it’s the way she misses the soft scents of home, the word which sticks at the back of her throat like syrup. The tang of oranges and essential oils, fruitful days stretched out upon plush cream bedsheets below pine archways and the rolling familiarity of siblings darting in and out. The craving for the hot sun and ritual balm of night. Forging autonomy in the sunsets. How someone would stroke her cheek and tell her she was where she needed to be, amongst the folds of her youth, and close to the telephone pylon of safety. Like the way she seeks solace in bodies not walls.

But he can only imagine, that perhaps this is why her eyes well up. So he doesn’t dare ask, only watches a singular tear trickle down her face, before he turns back to face out the window, and wonders what his girlfriend has cooked him for tea.

– Emily Black

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