Selfish Bloody Bastard
The fast train to London Euston screeched into the platform of Birmingham New Street, oblivious to the clamouring throngs of people jostling for position at the station, Owen Richards among them. He held his laptop bag close to his chest as he barged his way past the other passengers in an attempt to be at the front of the crowd waiting impatiently for the doors to open. The alighting passengers had barely stepped down to the platform before he barged his way through, ignoring the strangled yelp of the young woman who was crushed against the side of the door as a result.
Once safely on board, behind only a wiry teenage boy who had somehow managed to slip in front of him, Owen took a quick survey of the carriage on his right. He didn’t have long: already he could see the passengers starting to stream in from the other end. About a third of a way down, he spotted his prize: an empty table seat. He could have gone for any other seat, but even though there were ‘tables’ that folded down from the chair in front, it was incredibly cramped to try and work on one of them, and the leg-room was abysmal! The teenager skulked into the first free ordinary row, and Owen was free to race down the aisle and nab the table before anyone else could even consider it.
Although he would have like to sit in the aisle seat to prevent anyone else sitting with him, to use the laptop point he really needed to be by the window. It was all very well having a lunchtime meeting with a big client to go over the figures, but the travelling alone lost him nearly a full day’s work, and quite frankly, he couldn’t afford that. Owen needed every second of the hour and a half journey just to keep in touch.
His top-of-the-range Dell laptop was already on the table and running when an older gentleman showed signs of wanting to share the row. Owen glared at him to move on, regretting it immediately as his place was taken by a woman ushering a gaggle of children. If there was anything worse than a lunchtime meeting, it had to be a lunchtime meeting during the school holidays.
“There’s three here, kids,” she said. “I don’t suppose…” she trailed off as Owen glanced at her before manically typing anything, regardless of whether or not it was correct. “No,” the woman concluded. “Josie, you’re the eldest. There’s one on its own just behind you.”
“No buts! We can’t all sit together, and I need to keep an eye on the other two.” Owen noted that there appeared to be a good five or six years between ‘Josie’ and her two siblings. “I won’t be far away, Jose. We’ll still be able to talk and you’ve got your magazine. Don’t worry.”
The family had barely managed to sit down before the train gave a sudden lurch and pulled out of the station, no less noisily than it had arrived. A few stragglers squeezed their way down the aisles in vain search of somewhere to sit, eventually realising they would have to stand. Owen simply kept his head down and concentrated on his work, ignoring them all, even the student with so many bags that he looked like he might fall over.
So engrossed in his spreadsheet was he that Owen didn’t even notice that the small girl sat next to him had abandoned her colouring was peering rather closely at his screen. Instinctively, Owen drew away from her slightly, but she just sat there, her wide smile showing the gaps where several baby teeth had recently fallen out. “Whatcha doin’?”
Quite frankly, Owen had no idea how to respond to that. Not since he had been a kid himself had he ever been around them. With his busy work schedule there was little time for relationships of his own, and as soon as any of his friends popped a few sprogs they didn’t want to go out anymore. He retreated further into the corner of the seat and looked around in vain for the child’s mother. She seemed to be momentarily absent, but boy opposite stared at him with an equally toothless grin. “Erm…” was all he managed to stammer before their mother bustled back towards them.
“Hannah, Leon, leave the poor man alone! Can’t you see he’s working? Here, are you two hungry?” She reached into one of her giant bags and pulled out a couple of bags of crisps and a pair of Kit Kats. “I’m sorry about that,” their mother apologised graciously as the young pair ripped into the snacks. “They do like to talk to people, but they’re harmless really.”
Owen said nothing and turned his eyes back to the figures. The woman seemed to go out of her way to keep them occupied after that and they didn’t bother him again.
After about an hour, some time after the Milton Keynes stop, the train slowed and eventually, came to a full stop. This time, even Owen looked up. They weren’t at a station, and besides, this was the fast train and didn’t stop often at all. Outside there were nothing but fields; nothing of interest. He shrugged his shoulders and went on ploughing through with his work. It was British Rail after all: they could never get anything right. The train would start again in a moment.
But it didn’t. Even Owen the engrossed couldn’t help but wonder why they had stopped. The train stayed stationary for around twenty minutes before the loudspeaker in the carriage crackled into life and a tinny voice rang out. “We apologise for the delay. There is an unforseen problem further up the line. We will advise when this is resolved and the line is once more clear to proceed.”
Of course, this was the cue everyone was looking for to get talking. Suddenly the train was filled with the usual speculation about the ‘problem’ further up the track. Was it another Potter’s Bar or just the ‘wrong kind of leaves on the track’ again?
Only Owen stayed aloof. Instead, he reached for his mobile and dialled the number of his contact in London. “Scott? Yeah, it’s Owen. Listen, I might be a bit late for the meeting. Some problem with the trains or something. Usual ****e British infrastructure as usual I expect.” He pointedly ignored the mother’s angry glare at the swear word. Not his problem, and it wasn’t that bad anyway. “Yeah, London Euston. Listen, I’ll let you know more when I do. They’re going to keep us updated apparently. It’s not going to happen, is it? They never think about the people using their facilities, do they? Hopefully I’ll still be able to make it. Cheers.” He disconnected the call and left the mobile out on the table, carefully out of reach of both the children.
Another half an hour or so passed, and still there was no announcement. Rumour had started to reach frantic proportions in the carriage, and the latest one circulating was that someone had jumped off a bridge in front of an incoming train. Owen scoffed at this one; it was never anything as interesting as that.
It was getting towards lunchtime now, and his stomach was beginning to rumble. There was a buffet carriage on this train, but it was a few carriages down. Hungry though he was, Owen didn’t think he could go. The overpriced, bland food didn’t bother him in the least, but it would mean leaving his laptop behind, and there was no way he was going to do that. It was too valuble. And if he took it with him, there wouldn’t be a seat when he returned; someone was sure to have pinched it. Owen personally had his imaginary money on ‘Josie’, but couldn’t rule out the scruffy looking student that he could swear kept eyeing up his valuables.
Owen looked at his clock every couple of minutes. Time was gradually slipping away. No longer concentrating on the laptop, he carefully tried to calculate how much time he would need to get the connecting tube, and then how much time to get to the meeting, if he ran as fast as he possibly could. He really couldn’t afford to miss this meeting; the whole contract depended on it, and there was one heck of a lot of money tied up in it. If he missed it because of stupid leaves on the track… the train service would be getting a very strongly worded letter and an invoice for all that lost business. It wasn’t on in this day and age.
He was just about to call Scott again and try to rearrange from later in the day, when his phone rang. “Speak of the devil!” he said, as lightly as he dared. “I was just about to call you!” Owen paused to listen to what Scott was telling him. “No… really? I thought that was just a rumour.” He didn’t voice his first thought, which was why couldn’t the jumper have chosen a different day to die. It might seem insensitive and image was always important. “Yeah, three o’clock should be fine… if we ever get moving again. See you then.”
Great. An even later finish than expected and more time wasted. At least Scott had been willing to move the meeting until later. Thank God for small mercies, he guessed. That could have been a big mess for his company, all because of one suicidal man. Selfish bloody bastard, Owen thought to himself. No consideration for how his death would impact on anyone else in the least.