"In a universe suddenly divested of illusion and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. – Camus”
Dan didn’t know what it meant or why anyone would write it on the wall of a toilet cubicle in Leeds station but it somehow struck a chord with him. Beneath it a different hand had scrawled ‘FUCK IT’ coming out of the mouth of a cheerfully drawn boy with a baseball cap and oversized erect penis.
Dan listened hard. The man was pissing, the urinal closest to the cubicle in which Dan was waiting. The man cleared his throat and gave a grunt, followed by the zip of his flies. Slow footsteps clipped past the cubicle door. Dan gingerly bent his head to the floor. Through the gap under the door he watched black shoes stop at the sinks. A briefcase was placed carefully down. The tap went on.
A businessman heading home after a late night at the office? Heading back to the wife and kids to bitch about his day? Or a different man? A man who would summarily end Dan’s life as soon as he opened the cubicle door.
Dan checked his phone. Eleven-forty-seven. Three minutes till the last train. He lifted the hold-all, felt its precious weight.
The tap still running. How long does it take to wash your hands? More grunts and sniffs. Eleven-forty-eight. Need at least a minute to get up the escalator and down to the train.
The tap stopped. Dan held his breath. The solid click of one briefcase lock, then the other. Fear ran through him. He bent again and saw the man’s hand reach into the briefcase. His heart pounded in his head, panic rose. Adrenaline coursed through him. Now or never.
“Fuck it,” he whispered savagely, pulled the lock, yanked the door open and leapt out screaming defiantly.
The man took two surprised steps back and bumped into the wall, fear distorting his plump face, a Twix frozen halfway to his mouth. A wave of relief surged through Dan and exploded out as hysterical laughter. The man flinched into the corner. Still laughing, Dan swung the bag onto his shoulder and ran.
He weaved and barged through the drunk men and scantily dressed women and took the escalator steps three at a time. Along the bridge and hurling himself down the steps to the platform, he stumbled and almost fell onto the train. Disapproving faces gazed balefully at him. He grinned back triumphantly and made his way to a seat in the corner.
He sat back and hugged the bag tightly to his chest. Through the window he saw the Twix man emerge from the toilet and look round nervously. Silly fucker. Dan laughed to himself.
“Excuse me, would you mind moving your bag please? I think this is my seat.”
Dan looked up. An elderly woman peered over half-moon glasses at him, offering a nervous smile. Dan looked at the bag spread over the seats, then reluctantly stood and heaved it into the luggage rack above his head. He slumped back and glared at her.
“Thank you, young man.” She sat and began rummaging in her purse, muttering. “Now, I’m sure it’s here somewhere.”
Dan gave her an irritated look then turned to stare moodily out the window, glancing up every few seconds to check the bag. He tried to zone the woman’s voice out.
“Gosh, so many things in here, I’m sure I don’t need half of this stuff. Ah, here it is.”
Dan glanced up. The syringe was tiny in her hand and he hardly felt the needle as it slid into his thigh. Her thumb gently pressed the plunger. An icy cold filled his veins.
As the train slowed into the station, the woman gathered her things and stood up for the bag. A man quickly jumped up and offered to help. He lifted it down and deposited it on the platform for her. She smiled her thanks, and no, she would be fine from here; her son was coming to pick her up in his car, thank you so much.
She watched the train pull out, faces flashing by; talking, laughing, reading, staring into space, and one young man, slumped against the window, looking for all the world as if he were just asleep.