Thursday, February 21, 2008

slow journey

On the train this morning, we got as far as Barnham when I observed the ticket inspector guiding three rather noisy women through the train.

"B27", they were yelling. Or "B26", or 8. "Is this coach B, or coach A?"

"Coach B", the inspector reassured them, obviously used to this. Then he cleared his throat.

"Excuse me, Madam", he said, "but I'm afraid you're sitting in this lady's seat". He looked down at a seated woman and then gestured towards one of the three women behind him.

"I've got a seat booked too", the woman cried, immediately affronted. "B48. But I couldn't find it. So I took this one".

"All the same", the inspector ruled, "you'll have to move, I'm afraid. Your seat is back there".

The lady's face hardened, yet her tone turned pleading. "I'm disabled. So if I move it'll take me some time. You'll have to hold the train for me".

"Very well".

She paused, weighing up making a further fuss. And then, suddenly, addressing the women, turned all sweetness and light, muttering and sighing sympathetically.

I wonder why the sudden change of tone. Craning my neck round, I realise that it'll take some time before the other women are settled happily in their seats. I watch them as the disabled woman slowly edges out and - she's more observant than me - carefully helps them into their seats. All three women are blind. There's a dog, too, which must be accommodated, and several large rucksacks.

We're not going to be moving for a while. The driver clearly won't pull away 'til the inspector has worked the doors, and for the moment he's fully occupied. Eventually, perhaps fifteen minutes after the initial confrontation, all four women are seated. The inspector, the slightest smile playing on his lips, begins walking back to the door.

"Oh, hang on", cries one of the blind woman.

He turns back.

"I think one of my apples has rolled off under someone's seat".

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