Sunday, 2 November 2014
I sat down in an empty train carriage at night. The ghosts of littered newspapers, food wrappers, the lonely signs of busy lives returned to home. Then, as the metal and glass cranked forward through shadowy stations, he emerged. Sharp brown eyes in a canvas of pale skin. The suspicious young person sitting beside me, like a modern Ancient Mariner with hooded fixed stare: ‘I know it’s not a nice thing to ask really…. Would you have 80p?.’
I glanced at bitten-nail fingers, the pleading look of a different type of salesman to those who had left the train. Someone worth at least a smile, which I gave while weighing up the exactness of his amount.
‘Yeh, 80p’ he said, reading my mind, ‘I’m that skint man.’
80p for something that was probably not a great thing, though how much worse than what I spend all the 80ps of my life on. A kitkat? Between one need and another, mine felt far less.
I searched in my pockets, fingering through a chaos of keys and pens for what was only a single 20p coin. ‘It’s all I have on me,’ I said. ‘What’s your name?’
‘I’m sorry, Jon, it’s not enough –‘
‘Don’t be, it’s appreciated.’
Taking the coin from my palm, he touched-in with a quick handshake. The ritual of exchange.
‘At least,’ I said, as he made to go, ‘it’s half what Centrepoint ask for…’
‘The Centrepoint advert. You haven’t seen it? It says, just 40p could give John a safe place to live.’
‘Well, they’ve got the wrong Jon mate. I need twice that, and I don’t know anywhere I’d call safe.’
‘You should give them a ring. There’s probably a poster on one of the carriages back.’
‘Fuck that - It’ll cost me more than 40p to call.’ He stuffed the coin into his trousers and abandoned me to my thoughts.
The wrong Jon…
When the real world collides with us, we feel somehow diminished and poor of love. Or more aware of the fault lines and cracks in our image. If only there was an advert that could actually give Jon something, instead of asking us to give to someone else who claims to know him – because who is ever going to trust jon. I started to imagine a train filled up with Jon’s, with people like us walking up and down asking for something of value. What would Jon give us, I wondered? Probably a lot more than 40 or even 80p’s worth of experience. Though, like me, we wouldn’t know how to ask him for it. We are so far down the wrong track of value and exchange, we don’t even know what the journey is anymore.
At that point, I realised I had missed my stop …