Want me to start from the beginning? Ok sure.
About 2:30 in the afternoon, I’m waiting in Manchester Piccadilly—Nothing new. I stand there, half absorbed by what’s going on another platform some ways away. A blind guy was berating a ticket warden over some “illuminating revelation” he had three Fridays pasts. Real surreal shit.
Anyhow that’s another story. Here I was, standing there on the platform, number six or seven methinks, watching the world go by. In the corner of my eye, I notice something occurring next to them metal barriers. What you call em? Doesn’t matter! I was tap-tap-tapping Even Flow’s beat like a broken record. Some guy was sayin summat with a non-fussed security man. He’s gesturing his arms like a wacky tube man, but at the time I gave it no thought, cuz it wasn’t my business. Besides, beyond Eddie Vedder’s “expansive harmonic vocabulary” and the trains I couldn’t hear much.
Anyhow, this bloke must’ve thought he’s arguing to a brick wall, cuz he stops talking to him. He comes towards me, but I don’t pay him much attention.
Folks are moving all over the place. But like Moses with the red sea he just parts em. People are pissed as he busts past, I’d sure as hell be, but he doesn’t give them much thought. That guy could’ve walked through fire.
This man on a mission comes into my personal space. He looked like he eats twelve steaks a day, a shaved gorilla all suited and booted n’all. And God his smell! Cologne slotted between his rolls of neck fat. He’s staring at me like he wants to rip off my head, and he probably could’ve too. I stare up at him like ‘yes?’
‘Excuse me,’ his voice was deep man, deep, ‘does the next train to London change?’
‘No, not that one mate,’ I replied.
‘What its final stop?’ he said.
‘Er, the big station in London. Begins with an E I think.’
‘So Euston then?’ the man replied, curtly like.
‘Yes, that’s the one!’
‘And?’ I asked, feeling my eyebrows furrowing.
‘Any other?’ he demanded.
‘Any other what?’
‘Stops!’ he exclaimed.
‘Oh, right! Er…’ I paused for a mo, racking my brain for any scrap of info. Remember.
‘So, are you going to tell me!?’ the man demanded. I noticed the beads of sweat trickling down his shiny scalp as he shook his meaty hands.
‘Gimme a second, please.’
The man huffed as I pulled out my phone. Lucky for me, the awkward silence was broken up by the blaring tannoy’s.
‘Ok, it stops at Marylebone too,’ I say.
‘Marleybone?’ the man replied, staring at me like I was speaking in snake’s tongue.
‘Nah, not like the Rasta.’
‘So, you mean Marybone then?’ he asked. I baulked at his insistence on putting words in my mouth.
‘No,’ I replied, ‘it’s spelt M-a-r-YLE-bone.’
‘Ah! You meant Marylebone.’
‘Yes! Yes! That’s it!’
‘Yes, oh indeed!’
‘Actually, its pronounced in-deed,’ the man lectured me. Me? Who’s studying English at Uni for Christ’s sake! At this point I was thinking if he’s sooo god damn intellectual then why can’t he figure this out for himself?
‘Yeah, whatever man.’
‘Is that the train,’ the man asked, pointing to a new one. It was only 5 green carriages long, nothing like the trains heading to London.
‘You sure?’ one hundred and ten percent I wanted to say! But hey, manners make the man, I said:
‘Sure I’m sure.’
‘Surely that’s it,’ he said again. Pointing to a train on another platform.
‘No, no it isn’t,’ I surprised myself that any sound came through my gritted teeth.
‘That’s it!’ he insisted. At that point, I didn’t know why he was still asking me for anything. Why didn’t he act his age and find out for himself? Why doesn’t he just get on the train? I was up to *here* with him.
‘No!’ I said.
The man looked at me with sheer incredulity, shocked that a teenager—just a boy to him no doubt—would dare talk to his elders in such a way. I bet he’d slapped his kids for less! It got too awkward for starin at one another. I just let the squealing wheels of shuttling trains do the talking.
I groaned with frustration; I was just at the end of my wits with this guy.
‘Well, is it?’ the man said.
‘God, yes! Yes!’ I exclaimed. Please Lord Jesus, I prayed, I jus wanted freedom from his torment. Bugger if it’s the right train.
‘Calm down sir, that’s all I wanted to know.’ The man says. Through this whole annoyin, awkward affair he was the one who needed a bloody chill pill. How dare he lecture me about my feelings? I’m nineteen for Christ’s sake!
‘At least that one’s prompt.’ How the man emphasised “prompt”—what schmuck says prompt in everyday conversation? —put my hairs on end.
‘Well thanks for your help,’ he said. At this point he was beginning to walk elsewhere, obviously to annoy someone else. Kinda reminds of a fly that won’t go away.
I politely muttered ‘fuck off’—Just to get the last word in. Luckily the man didn’t hear me, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be here!
But here’s the problem. The stupid fucker forgot his briefcase! Like any jolly ol Englishman I picked it up, shouting ‘oi’ like a broken record for his attention. Perhaps he was too pissed at me or the trains were too loud, but he couldn’t hear me. So, I gave up.
Instead, I chose to hand it into lost and found. But first, I wanted to have a peek in it. After all, this guy just took five minutes off my life, so I felt entitled for a look. Guess what was in there? Go on, guess!
Chance Encounter felt like it took less time to construct, although this feeling is deceitful because of its similar length to Zack–a short story which will be released this August. Once again, it’s another reaction throughout the creative process that I can’t quite explain. Encounter came from a class exercise inspired by Cheever’s Reunion (Nast, 2007): To write a character who interacts with a dislikeable antagonist. While Encounter’s antagonist riffs off the rudeness of Reunion’s own antagonist, I dialled back the unexpected extent of the disrespectful behaviour.
Simultaneously, what’s revealed through Encounter’s first-person point-of-view suggests that the narrator is equally as rude as the antagonist. I wanted the characters to have a similar penchant for inciting conflict, as I was interested in seeing what would’ve happened; and certainly, it didn’t disappoint me. Nevertheless, neither of these pieces would’ve achieved their full glory if it wasn’t for the Friday Workshops. As I’m in my second year, I’ve become more attuned to handling and constructing criticism—like the rest of my classmates. Feedback played an integral part of the redrafting process, receiving alternative perspectives that revealed grammatical errors and inconsistencies which I wouldn’t have noticed. The feedback I received has only cemented it’s importance in my creative process yet again.
What do you think? Let me know by either commenting, sharing, or liking! Don’t be afraid of sharing your opinions!
© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021
Nast, C. (2007) ‘Richard Ford Reads John Cheever.’ New Yorker (New York, N.Y.: 1925). [Online] 3rd May. [Accessed on 4 February 2021] https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/fiction/reunions.