Twitter Series

Stranger at the Station

The latest piece in the Twitter series — 900 words celebrating 900 followers. Enjoy, and as always, thank you!

* * *

Sometimes, when I’m in public, I take notes on passerby so I can use them as characters in my stories later.

Well, more than sometimes. Usually anytime I’m sat down, really. I don’t like knowing there are hundreds of people I see every day, even for the briefest moment, that I’ll never see again. At least they can live on inside my head, inside my work. One day, when I’m published, they might read my book without ever realising a certain character is based on them. But that’s what’s cool about it.

No one’s ever figured me out, snatched my notebook and accused me of being a creep. No one’s ever even noticed. They’re all too busy texting or listening to their headphones to pay attention to the weird kid scribbling in her notebook.

 

Except for today, because today, I found another weird kid scribbling in a notebook at the train station.

And he found me, too.

A bespectacled boy with wind-tousled chestnut hair was sitting on a bench on the platform across from me. In my head, I named him William. He was a university student, a future educator. Maybe he worked part time at H&M or Next, got a discount on clothes. I saw the exact chinos he was wearing in a shop somewhere.

Between speeding trains, I caught him watching me, leaning forward and squinting at my boots before diverting his attention back to his lap.

Maybe he was doing the same thing I was. Maybe he was studying me. Hmm. Interesting.

To test the theory, I pulled my journal out of my bag and studied him, taking notes on the way he was sat with his ankle on his knee, cradling his notebook. Even from far away, I could see his brows draw together. I made a note of that, too.

The automated announcer called for the 18:25 Southwest Trains service to Weymouth on platform 2 – the train I was meant to get on. It slid to a stop in front of me a few minutes later, obstructing my view of ‘William’.

I glanced up at the departures board. There was another service going to Weymouth in half an hour. That would give me plenty of time to get a story started.

The doors to the train whooshed open. Each car showed the same scene. Men in suits and bored-looking students ducked their heads as they stepped off the train and muscled past the handful of passengers milling around the doors, waiting to board.

The first blast on the whistle from the train guard echoed through the station once the platform was clear. After one last whistle and a signal from the guard, the train lurched forward into a tunnel and round a bend – without me on it.

I looked across the platform. William was still there. When he looked up again, he immediately noticed me staring. I tried to be nonchalant about it, pretend I was looking at the book poster above his head, but he just smiled and turned his notebook around to show me. It was a pen sketch.

I turned mine around, too. He squinted. He couldn’t see what it was from so far away.

Screw it. I stood up and darted up the stairs to reach the other platform. His eyes followed me as I walked. As soon as I stepped foot on the other platform, I felt a bit foolish. Here I was, approaching some stranger with notes I’d taken while essentially spying on them.

“Um, hi,” I said, cautious.

“Hey.” He smiled.

“Can I see your sketch?”

He scratched his head. “Oh God.” It was more to himself than me, I think. “You’re probably gonna think this is really weird…” He handed his notebook to me; now I could see the sketch up close. It was a scribbled ballpoint outline of me sitting on the bench staring down at my own notebook.

“Hey, this is really good.”

He snorted. “Really good is pushing it, I think. I know it probably seems creepy, but I draw random people when I’m out. It’s just that it’s good practice for speed drawing and it helps me work on features.”

“I don’t think it’s creepy. Kinda cool, actually.”

I handed him my notebook, turned to the page where I’d written about him. I’d only gotten as far as a few details, hadn’t turned him into a story yet.

“William?” he asked.

“William was what I named you. Instead of drawing random people when I’m out, I write about them, make them characters in my stories.”

“Oh, okay, gotcha.” He continued scanning the page. “Future educator? I hate kids.”

“William doesn’t hate kids.”

He smiled. “My name is actually Trevor. And I’m an art student.”

“Oh, okay. Do you wanna teach art?” I asked, voice heavy with sarcasm.

He made a crushing gesture with his hands. “I swear if I get asked that one more time…”

“Try having a degree in English, then tell me how hard you have it.”

We both laughed, and then our eyes locked. I could see now that they were green behind his glasses.

“So do you wanna get coffee sometime…” He trailed off.

“Ayla.”

“Ayla?” he finished the question. “Pretty name.”

“Yeah, sure. And thanks.”

I scribbled my number down on his sketch of me, and gave it a title: “Ayla at the Station”.

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