I knew I shouldn’t have gone out for happy hour, thought Anna. She stood on the crowded platform at Leicester Square at 6:30pm on a Friday evening. True, she had left her colleagues at the seedy bar (at least she thought it was seedy) just when things were heating up, but they had already been drinking since after 4:00pm and she could only sip on the one Archers and Pineapple drink she had ordered for so long. By the time she had put the glass down and announced to her friend (more like her cubicle buddy), Dani, that she was leaving, the drink was an insipid taste of melted ice and preservatives from whatever canned pineapple juice the bartender had used.
Leicester Square at any time of day was crowded – filled with wide-eyed tourists mostly – but after work on a Friday evening, with people bustling home or heading out for drinks, it was almost unbearable for Anna. She hated being in such close proximity to so many people, some of whom she thought hadn’t had a wash in ages. But now the Picadilly line was running late and the platform had become even more crowded. She turned up the volume of her music through the headphones of her iPhone 7. Corinne Bailey-Rae crooned in her ear in that melodious voice of hers about “Walk on, keep on moving.” She stood her ground, a bit farther away from the edge of the platform but at the right spot where she knew the train would stop and the wide doors would open. Anna wondered briefly if she should let the couple in front of her, clearly tourists with tube maps held tightly in hand, know that they were staring in the wrong direction for the expected train. She averted her gaze and thought they’d figure it out soon enough.
The familiar rumble and rush of hot air signaled the arriving train. The tourists backed away from the edge, stood slightly behind the painted yellow line, and started looking in the direction of the train. Phew, Anna thought, the last thing she wanted was further delays.
Anna cursed herself for not carrying a book with her or even picking up the Metro. Not that she was keen on reading the paper but it gave her something to do other than stare at her co-passengers or pretend not to stare. In the crowded train she’d managed to get a seat. It was no point feeling offended anymore or even correcting the person giving up their seat to her that she was not pregnant. This happened to her almost every time she traveled on public transportation. She accepted the seat with a smile and multiple thank you’s while clutching at the underside of her protruding belly just like she had seen so many other truly pregnant women do.
“You’re not really pregnant, are you love?”
Anna had jumped as she was caught off-guard by the man seated next to her leaning over and whispering in her ear. She turned to face him with her ‘deadly glare’, as her coworkers had coined the look she gave when she was highly annoyed at someone, but she was met with the most gorgeous hazel eyes twinkling at her in a knowing way. His eyes, gorgeous as they were, weren’t even the most striking feature of this stranger’s chiseled brown face. His smile was one of those smiles that could really light up a room. His teeth, straight and white – naturally white and not that dental-whitened or newly acquired set of crowns, was unusual to find in London. A man who took care of his teeth! Anna found herself relaxing (in spite of herself) and smiled.
The conversation they had thrilled Anna even more than the stranger’s look did. He’d introduced himself as David and had launched into a passionate monologue on politics. Anna hated discussing politics with anyone but the passion in David’s voice made her listen attentively and she contributed few well-placed sentiments throughout. They spoke of favorite authors (at this Anna actually started having little butterflies in her mid-section). He loved the classics and Fyodor Dostoyevsky was one of his favorites, one thing they found out they had in common. Anna found the conversation flowed easily and almost didn’t want the train ride to end. Ignoring her own rule of never handing out her number, she offered David her numbers (both landline and mobile) and he entered it into his phone. The musky fragrance of his cologne (she thought it must have been a Penhaligon’s) that wafted over to her made the butterflies flutter crazily.
David stopped mid-sentence and looked up. “Oh, here’s my stop. I’ll give you a ring, yeah?”Anna found she had to pull her gaze away from those mesmerizing eyes. She cursed the train driver’s speed for getting to Wood Green so quickly. She waved goodbye as David jumped through the double doors of the, now almost empty, car of the train. Anna’s iPhone slipped from her lap and she fumbled to catch it before it landed on the ground. It was then she noticed: just below the hem of David’s chinos, on his left ankle, a bulky monitor with its led light flashing as if in warning. She looked up quickly and caught the knowing twinkle in David’s eyes as he blew a kiss at her.
Doors closing. Mind the gap.