Welcome to our new series of short fiction set in, or inspired by London. In the first story, Narges Rashidi imagines the interplay between three passengers on the District Line…
The door closes and then opens immediately after. You jump in with a big smile of victory on your face. She lifts her head briefly, looks around and then leans it back against the window. I wonder if the beep was loud enough to wake her up.
You look around to find a seat. It is late at night and the District Line is running empty… almost empty, at least in this part of the town. You sit next to her. I wonder if you are one of those people who gets sick if they sit in the opposite direction to which the train is moving. Maybe you are. I wish I could ask you. Would that be too weird?
You are wearing a long silver chain around your neck that moves up and down your chest while you catch your breath. As you sit down, you flick your curls to one side. They fall across your turquoise top, all the way down to your shoulder. The top has a nice contrast against your brown skin. The printed flowers at the bottom of your white skirt and your toenails have the same turquoise colour. You cross one leg over another and sit up straight. Gracefully, confidently.
The door opens, people get off. The door closes. She is sleeping. I guess the beep is not that loud after all…
I look at your face. You have big eyes. Big caramel eyes. Somehow your cheekbones make them look even bigger. Or maybe it is the eyelashes. Curly black eyelashes that make your eyes look brighter, happier each time you blink. Look, they are smiling now… You are smiling. I look down and flip the newspaper in my hand.
Your face is familiar. I have seen it somewhere. It reminds me of someone. Maybe we went to the same high school? How old are you anyways? I think you are my age. Or maybe a year or two younger. I dig back in my memories only to find blurry faces. All I know is that you remind me of someone. Someone I knew a while ago.
The door opens; a guy with a book gets in and holds onto the bar. The door closes. I look at her. She doesn’t move. I look at you. You are staring at me. Your eyes still smiling. “Do you know me?!” I wonder. You take the paper from another seat and start reading. I wish I could ask you if you know me. You won’t understand me. I wish I could ask you to have coffee with me. Then, I could find out why you look so familiar. Maybe it was middle school? You get a pen out of your bag and start writing on the corner of the paper. Maybe I should ask for your email. Is that too weird?
The door opens. No one gets off. No one gets on. The door closes. She lifts her head and look out the window with one eye half open. Then, she rapidly sits up and looks at me. She is cross. I am scared. She is moving her hands too quickly; they are shouting.
I am talking back to her. I am not shouting. “Yes, I missed the stop, I’m sorry… No! I am not blind. Of course I can read the station names, I am sorry.” You are staring at us, surprised, trying to digest what is going on. “It’s only a couple of stops, OK?! I just got distracted reading the news.” You are still looking.
She walks to the door. She always shouts over little stuff. She gets too edgy. I wish I could explain that to you. She always did, even when we were kids. Like that time I broke Amelie’s hand. She shouted in front of the school. She was moving her hands too quickly. So furiously. Everyone was looking.
I look at you. You are writing faster. She is still moving her hands. People cannot hear what she is saying, but they can see her hands. I am embarrassed but I am not crying. I cried when I broke Amelie’s hand. After all it was only a doll. Brown skin; curly hair; caramel eyes. Mum would have bought her another one.
The door opens. I get up to leave. You tear the piece of paper and give it to me as I am walking out. The door closes. I look at the paper. It was a phone number I couldn’t read…scribbled out. Below that, you had written hurriedly, “I can’t speak sign language. You have a kind look in your eyes. I wanted you to know that.”
Copyright, Narges Rashidi, 2013
Submissions for this column should be sent to email@example.com. Entries must be no more than 1000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Image by Nina Jean in the Londonist Flickr pool.