• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 10
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Riding the Metro

Melancholy Autumn has arrived in Betjemin’s Metroland. The electric trains, lighted after tea, still run between familiar suburban streets.

An old man boards at Harrow-on-the-Hill, hauling a mower – not one of those hover-bladed efforts that skim the lawn leaving a trail of mulched grass. No, this is a man who surrendered his Suffolk Punch with reluctance, who clings to the nostalgia of a four-wheeled carriage with a built-in collector for cuttings. Mowers of any kind will be forgotten before long as gardens shrink to pocket handkerchiefs of plastic grass. Pocket handkerchiefs will soon be forgotten too. As will the old man, who travels each Wednesday between his sister’s Harrow villa and his own more modest cottage near the terminus.

The train pulls into the next station – or the one after that. Mesmerised by glimpses into the kitchens and living rooms of houses that sprung up on pastures once bright with buttercups, he’s not paying attention. This one’s platform is on the other side; silver and red doors sweep open to reveal his mower blocking the entrance.

The soldier steps over the obstacle and drops his backpack on the floor. He might have walked to the next set of doors, but he’s a man of habit, with a point to make. This is where he chose to board the train, and this is where he’ll board it. He tugs at the hem of his camouflage jacket and runs a hand over his hair. There’s tidy, he thinks to himself, settling in the seat opposite the old man. The old man nods to him. He nods back, a gesture of familiarity. Not that they know each other, but they’ve been travelling this same service for years.


Riding the Metro

The solicitor walks the length of the carriage. He places his box of files next to the mower and takes a seat beside the soldier. He opens his newspaper and scans the headlines. Same old, same old. He’s been reading these unchanging columns, every Wednesday for decades. Ever since that night when...

Well, you know their stories. When your time’s up, there’s no point in fighting. The three of them know this inevitability. These men whose paths crossed one early autumn evening before they stepped off the train at their allotted stops. The dice may land on the square with the bovver-booted boys, high on heroin. Or the one with the speeding car, its driver too distracted by his mobile phone to notice the man on the crossing. Or the one with the ex-lover, who waits behind the front door, knife in hand.

Whatever. Tonight’s the night. Or rather, it was for each of them all those years ago. Never mind that you don’t see these men, riding the Metro through sleepy suburbs. Some have the gift, others don’t. But you saw something perhaps? The mower stained by cut grass, the weighty backpack, the box of paperwork, the final cases, never resolved.