The story begins, because it has to begin somewhere . We have the man; he’s not Phil the Elf at the beginning, just the man.
In the beginning there is an exchange of texts:
Hi areU getting my texts ? x
Well this is the first text I have gotten x
I’ve sent you quite a few. Don’t know where they’ve been going to. So how are you ?
He’s on a bus, it’s early morning. Summer. England. London. North London. Euston.
The bus takes him past Transformations, where men become women. It stops a few feet away from the zebra crossing that takes him into the stations side entrance.
A thin trickle of commuters are already spilling out on the expanse of concrete and food stalls outside.
Bleary eyed pass bleary eyed commuters. Heads down checking mobile phones for signs of life. His last text hangs there unanswered. He agonises for a second over the missing kiss. It should have ended with one of those, not a question mark.
But there’s no time for agony, not right now. He lifts his head and sees that the eight fifteen to Watford is on time. All he needs to do now is get to the last carriage before the automatic doors shut fast.
The man has done this one hundred times before; he knows he can make it by quickening his step. Other less experienced travellers sprint past him. They waste unnecessary energy. Ruining reasonably ironed shirts with unnecessary sweat. Risking corns, blisters and coronaries; for a train that will depart in exactly three minutes twelve seconds. Three twelve, ten, nine, eight, seven….
An announcement tells him the train on platform two is the eight fifteen to Watford Junction. He’s quickened his pace now; that echoing, distorted voice, always makes him do that. But then the announcer looses interest in his journey and starts rambling on about a landslide somewhere south of Penrith, Cumbria. He, she, it; doesn’t actually mention Cumbria, but the man’s brain does. He was there once, for an afternoon. Grey stone walls, rain, rucksacks, walking boots, compass, anorak, map. Anorak, map. Misery.
The man sidles up the first door of the last carriage; he steps on board and begins walking through the train. He’s relaxed, glancing occasionally at the sprinters outside, who think it’s important to board halfway along the train. Each connecting door opens stiffly, and slams with a broken metallic crack.
And then he has found a place, a seat in a half deserted carriage. A seat on the left side of the train. His green rucksack sits beside him, and the early edition of a free newspaper is spread across his knees. The door zooms closed, and the guards whistle sounds. He looks down, and the question mark looks back.