Processor Fault Test

He stares into the carriage.

Watching with wide, wandering eyes, he makes the other passengers wonder ‘why is he staring?’

Feigning interest in sights concealed by the glaring opacity of a well-lit window, he stares.

An Old Lady, white of eyes and blue of sagging skin, stares back. He wonders whether she is playing the same game or if she is truly blind. He holds her gaze, or he gazes absently at eyes unseeing. She holds his gaze, or gazes absently with eyes unseeing.

An ugly man scowls…or is he deep in thought? Perhaps he is offended by the staring man’s music, the tinny, filtered 808 samples that bop and rat, a tat, a tat a tat clap like the strangled utterances of a dying Gameboy.

The Staring Man, offended by the Ugly Man’s face, reaches up to his chest pocket. His thumb disappears inside his shirt, a series of clicks and every the carriage is filled by the swelling fart of an electro-brass fanfare, a subtle but irritatingly pervasive choral whisper; over-amplified frequencies bleeding through inadequate headphone insulation.

The Ugly Man’s ugly upper lip curls, his eyes follow the thumb from the pocketernous depths and, with the rest of the hand, back down into the staring man’s lap, passing a name tag, which reads: ‘Velvet Sheen: Teacher, Meadowtop School.’

Velvet’s heart flutters every time the eyes of a reflection seem to stare back but he can’t stop staring. Anything could happen, he must stay alert.
Every day, Velvet makes the same journey to work; one train towards London then a change at Waterloo East to get a second train, going away from London. One train is always tiny and full of silent, suited, sallow skinned youths, fresh-out of school and fresh-out of hope, too ignorant to realise how young they really are and how much life they are going to waste. The other is always large and half-empty, a few fat gentlemen in golf club jumpers dotted here and there reading the Guardian and remembering the days when they used to have to get the train into London out of necessity, rather the train into Surrey for lack of anything better to do.

The two trains are the same in some ways. Velvet sees the same people on each train, every day, and not one of them has so much as smiled in recognition of him in over a year.
Velvet struggles to believe he has managed to carry on for so long under such conditions.

For the first few weeks he merely assumed that no one was acknowledging him because, understandably, it can be upsetting to put the effort into making a new friend just to have that friend disappear out of your life when their career changes. Velvet remembers his days working for McDonald’s, where staff turnover was very high indeed; he rarely tried very hard to ingratiate himself with new staff members as they were likely to disappear after a few weeks.

He had worked with a Muslim guy called Del, who had kept his religion secret when applying for the job. After he was hired he told the manager that he couldn’t work with any of the actual food-products because McDonald’s isn’t a company that serves Halal meat, nor could he clean-up for the same reason. Del worked on the tills for two weeks before quitting and using the money he earned to buy an ounce of weed. He set himself up as a drug-dealer and by staying clean himself, and gradually moving into heavier substances, he was able to buy a brand-new BMW within two years.
Had Velvet not been a stoner at the time, the two weeks he spent getting to know Del would have been have wasted.

Another guy, Jim, found out his girlfriend was pregnant. He wanted to stay-on at school for sixth form but needed money quickly, so he applied to work for McDonalds. He worked there for two months before his girlfriend met someone else and aborted his kid.

Velvet learned a lesson from Jim; don’t try to kill yourself using bleach. The pain is unbearable.

I’m sure no form of suicide is entirely painless, he thinks, as he recalls Jim’s screams, but if you thrust your head into a vat of boiling chip fat to escape the pain, you’ve probably chosen the wrong method.

Velvet did not begrudge the people who shared his commute, for the first few weeks, because he assumed they didn’t want to waste time making a new friend unnecessarily, they would wait until they knew he was a regular.

Over a year has passed now, but no words. Not even a smile.

Velvet had assumed that, after enough time, people would start to recognize him, like he recognises the Ugly Man or the Old Lady. He assumed they would gradually start to smile at him, then greet him and, eventually, they would all be conversing like old friends.

I mean, we all take the same journey twice a day, by this point it’s just awkward that we don’t acknowledge one another. I mean, some of these people I only catch their eye once or twice a week or so, but what about her, she gets the same two trains as me, every day, and more than half the time we end up getting on the same two carriages! I mean, talk about elephants in the room; no wonder I feel crushed by anxiety every time I set out for this journey!

Velvet looks over at her, not through the window but directly at her, and she looks immediately back.

Shit!

Velvet has been convinced for a while that the girl is aware of him. He gets the same two trains as her, at the same times, every day. They even walk the same direction from the station, for about two minutes, after they get off at Staines. He normally spends those two minutes walking a few feet behind her, watching her arse.

Velvet is a very fast walker but luckily so is the girl, which is probably why her arse is so nice to look at.
She only ever looks at him when he looks at her; he tries not to do so unless she is clearly looking away, by using his peripheral vision to clock the outline of her reflection in the window but, somehow, she always catches him looking.

I could just say hi, we’ve seen each other every day for over a year! I could just say hello and if she treats me like shit, well, she’s clearly the bitch in that scenario, there’s nothing wrong with just saying hi…

Velvet looks over at her, not through the window but directly at her, and she looks immediately back.

Shit!

I am convinced she is aware of me. She gets the same two trains as me at the same times every day. We even walk in the same direction from the station…

That’s it! This has gone on too long already. When we get up for our stop I just need to smile, say hello and start walking with her.

The train rolls slowly through the fields of Feltham. Velvet’s empty, bloated belly expands as his throbbing chest constricts and his eyes widen as he attempts to counteract the unwanted change to his countenance- the look of panic he has assumed-under the pretence of excitement. He forces a half-moon smile. He does not realise, but the image is not so much one of excitement as it is of insanity.

They get up at the same time and walk towards the door. Velvet looks at her, directly at her, and she looks back, holding his gaze. They reach the door together and, as the doors open, he opens his mouth to say hello…

“Stop staring at me, you creep!” she bursts out before he can speak, before she bursts out of the doors, before he can follow. Before the doors close, Velvet sits back down.

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