Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
The Woman on the Train
There was a quiet, rhythmic hum from the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. A quiet ticking ran counterpoint, from a metronome that swung in a transparent case, keeping the motion sensor from switching the light off. The light flicking off in the middle of reading reports and listening to tape recordings of meetings had finally irritated the man working over a report with a red pen enough to find this solution. He tended to hunch right over his work, hiding it from view like a miser over stacks of coins in Victorian era novels. This actually reflected habits he had been forced to acquire long ago, when still a young man with a thick head of hair and a much thinner waist line. His business was viciously competitive, and after having one coworker steal an idea by reading it over his shoulder, he had developed a penchant for dark, formidable coats, and developed a peculiar bow to his shoulders. These developments were entirely unconscious, just as he had never consciously cultivated a frown and pursed lips that looked peculiarly similar to American portraits of Puritans. Or a permanently suspicious demeanour and endless litany of complaints. He was a peculiar dark vortex in any room. Busy, dynamic meetings tended to die into tense, dour silence after his arrival. As the department head, he always had twenty to thirty ways to tell the staff they had failed.
This business man believed firmly in punctuality. 'Time is money' was far more than a mere cliché, or a trite knee jerk response to things that ate away his time for reasons that struck him as unsatisfactory. Due to his position and seniority, he had long ago taken a page from the cellular phone companies before the early twenty-first century, and begun billing to the exact minute and second. Beside the metronome sat a small clock that he set running the moment he stepped into the office even before the galoshes left his feet or the coat his shoulders, and didn't stop until those items were in place again.
The rather old but quite serviceable tape recorder sat ready to be turned on for his next appointment, to start in precisely ten minutes, and not a second before or beyond. Even now the concern niggled in the back of his mind, about the results of introducing the tape recorder. Previously spontaneous and quickly effective discussions had become slow, laboured affairs, while visitors carefully measured and weighed their words before setting them out. Employees did this in hopes of minimizing the strikes against them in their reviews. The range of unacceptable behaviour was quite broad. The few people who were long term employees had mastered the art of the trophy family never spoken of and only taken out for mandatory company parties and photo opportunities. The rest had finally suffered too many slings and arrows for staying home with a sick child, taking a long weekend day against the business man's preferred policy to spend time with a loved one, made a remark about a festive tree or pumpkin, and either been fired or left. The outside business associates had learnt the hard way that the business man was unduly fond of litigation and manipulation of the slightest unguarded word.
More than a few people had encountered descriptions of this type of the business man. They found it impossible to believe. How could it be true, they asked, that this man was worse than the fictional Scrooge? At any public gathering he was suave and charming, his pretty although typically dowdily dressed wife silent and smiling without comment. The children no longer visible, especially since the eldest had hit puberty and the younger had shown no aptitude for sports or scholarship. To the business man's great disappointment, and this was a discordant note left unconcealed at public events, the eldest was the better scholar and a worse athlete with a strong personality and sharp deductive wit. Since the eldest was a girl, and it soon became clear that the business man had a deep dislike of independent women, the note would swell a little, and those truly listening would move away, undone by the striking unpleasant undertone to that smooth and pleasant voice. Even the faint accent, West Indian if you knew what you were hearing, couldn't draw them back with its gentle, pleasing lilt.
The business man despised actors, acting, and any other art, except for classical music. Despite despising the first two, he was a master of disguise, of playing roles best for the given situation. In general he made it a practice not to speak to anyone for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and then only on the blandest and most general topics. Anything else, he had discovered, tended to reveal flaws in his portrayal to those who kept their eyes open. They weren't too influential usually. The western part of North America in general was home to a solid class of people with absolute contempt for thinkers and empathic individuals. 'Wishy-washy,' 'stuck-up,' and 'a burden on the tax payer' tended to be their epithets. All the same, the business man preferred not to allow them too many chances to say something awkward.
He glanced at the clock. The ten minutes were up. He promptly stood up, put on his galoshes, packed up his briefcase, put on his overcoat, flicked off the light and stopped the timeclock. Making careful note of the hours, minutes, and seconds in a log book he kept with is pass book in an inner pocket, he turned and left. Marching past the secretary without speaking to her – she was under strict orders not to address him unless there was a client present, and then only to greet and offer coffee – he stepped into the elevator, crisply pressing the button for the second basement level, which included the train platform.
The elevators were made of glass, and were in a bundle of three running up and down the side of the building. Even as he descended inside his glass tube, staring straight ahead and ignoring the potential sight of traffic and people far below, another man went up, leaning heavily to one side of his elevator car, holding a stitch in his side. Clutching a crumpled hat in one hand, he mopped his face and consulted a large digital watch, which could be identified by its distinctive shape and the way its face reflected green and then yellow with the movement of the elevator. This unfortunate gentleman, held up by the train stalling with its doors locked shut in the terminal in the second basement level, would eventually run into the secretary on her way out.
The business man consulted his watch, and scowled. No doubt dinner would be piping hot, but scorched, as usual. He demanded dinner be on the table when he got home, steaming as he removed his outdoor clothes. At first his wife had defied him on the point, saying that they needed to agree on a regular time for his arrival at home for dinner, so as to prevent its being spoiled. He had coldly informed her he would be home when he was home, and the dinner had better be ready. It was hardly his fault she wasn't a very good wife. It was a little early today, so he would probably be forced to hear from the children about school. Pulling out his daytimer, he made a note to see about having them assigned extra schoolwork, so they would be too busy to waste his time. He had already had the television unplugged for weeks, and the stereo unplugged a few days before, contracting the number of activities that could interfere with their studies.
His mind had turned to other considerations, such as whether he should skip going home for dinner and just go to a steak house, when the train arrived. Stepping briskly onto it, physically knocking into people whom he felt should have stepped aside for him in the first place, he found a seat that looked relatively clean even if threadbare, and had half decided on going to a particular steakhouse three stops down the line before he noticed a woman sitting in front of him.
She was gazing at him, a peculiar expression on her face. A sort of stern pity, in fact. By her feet sat a tattered backpack, an oblong box poking out of its two slightly separated main zippers. These were prevented from opening further by the ingenious addition of a small clip ended chain like those often seen on the cloaks of the rich in movies. On her feet she wore tattered woollen socks and well worn sandals, the kind more obviously made from old tires, despite the chill weather. Her clothing was simple and non-descript, faded old blue jeans, a faded workshirt, a faded and patched jean jacket. Her hair was cut indecently short to the business man's eyes – he believed every woman should be forced to have longer than shoulder length hair – and a woollen skull cap held it back behind her ears.
"You are punctual, as always." her speech was slightly accented. This made the business man take greater notice of her olive tinted skin with mounting dislike. The elder of his children was coloured like that. To him she was an alien child, despite everything that reminded him of himself in her, when he was much younger. Mostly she looked like her mother, which he considered a serious flaw. His son resembled him, but clearly when he had chosen to constrain spending on the children's education by not sending them to boarding school, it had been a mistake not to send at least the boy.
"You have had a long day, nevertheless. It is past eight o'clock."
"Oh? And who do you think you are, even offering an opinion?" the business man snapped, fiddling with a copy of a business themed newspaper he preferred. Tonight of all nights, the ink was coming away on his fingers. A rare event, he would have to phone in a complaint about the deteriorating quality of their newsprint ink.
"Who I am does not actually matter. I am just here as a reminder, for a little while."
"A reminder? A reminder of what?" he didn't know why he was talking to this woman. She was obviously a space cadet, probably on drugs.
"That I am not allowed to say. All I am allowed to do is this. All of the remembering and deciding you must do yourself. It is not often that this sort of thing is done, but the time is unusually short."
"Oh, I get it. You're some kind of religious freak. So, the world is about to end as usual, hmm?" The business man flipped open the paper, and consulted the stock price pages.
"Not at all, insofar as I know. As I understand it, the world will continue merrily along, with or without my sitting here, or you sitting there." The business man didn't bother dignifying that with an answer. He had decided that the best way to deal with useless people was to ignore them until they were useful, and then ignore them again after they were no longer useful. He frowned slightly, and consulted the article on the newest up-and-comers, single males with strong business interests.
The woman leaned back in her seat, unpreturbed by the man's behaviour. She glanced out the window attentively as the train shot out of the underground tunnels onto its one lengthy above ground stretch. Old, abandoned freight train tracks were still scattered across the barren ground, long ago stripped of trees and undergrowth to make way for the trains that most histories claimed opened the west. Little of the grass had come back, between the gravel from the track beds and the years of oil and chemical spills and spatters from the engines even when all the freight cars were sealed tight. The backs of older industrial buildings were turned to the tracks, windowless. They were pocked with sloughed off patches where the paint and plaster had fallen away to reveal old concrete or very occasionally brick. Graffiti in three main colours, red, black, and blue sprawled like spidery hands up to seven feet up the sides of the buildings, with the high fences between the tracks and them interposing, topped with razor wire. Some more security minded places had electrified their fences as well, adding signs to that effect. Others had large signs declaring the presence of large and unfriendly dogs, or large and unfriendly security officers, or both. Peculiarly, those places had just as much graffiti as all the others. It was impossible to see any sort of traffic from the train, and as a result the entire area seemed like a deserted wasteland in the daylight.
"Le terre ghaste." murmured the woman, shaking her head a little. The train stopped at a platform, and a stream of people entered. A selection of security guards, painters, carpenters, and road workers, mostly. The few exceptions were almost to a person workers in the various small stores and restaurants that fed and supplied the other workers they shared the train with. Two men talked loudly about gun control laws and how much they disliked them, standing in the way of the closed train doors. Across the aisle, sitting even with the business man, a young woman pulled a sheaf of music from her bag and began to practice, singing songs softly, her voice sometimes rising above the rumble of the train's engine and wheels, sometimes even carrying through the ugly squeals as the train heaved from side to side, its wheels grinding against the rails.
Two stops later, the business man stood up and prepared to exit. The steak house was a short walk from the train station here. The hippie woman was gone, as he had contemptuously dubbed her, so he stepped out confidently, striding along the grimy platform, automatically avoiding the dark and sticky puddles that emanated from the bottoms of most of the overfull trash cans.
"You should try to remember everything, before you decide. You yourself have lectured many on the importance of decisions based on full information." That damned woman again. The business man scowled.
"Stop following me, or I will have you arrested." he told her coldly. It was bad enough her words fell under the category of 'lip' which he refused to tolerate in his children. He had beaten his daughter twice for it, but finding that her steely will was more than a match for his, had changed tactics. He simply acted as if she wasn't there, and the odd time he made a comment, if one of her school marks happened to intrude on his attention, invariably in the high nineties, he invariably asked why she had lost any marks at all. Once she had gotten a hundred and fifteen percent from a teacher astonished at the breadth of her memory on a test. The business man had coldly declared the teacher shouldn't have done such a thing. His daughter had looked equally coldly back. That was something he had noticed lately. The odd time he looked up at the three faces who occupied his house, they were all blank and stony cold.
"I hardly think so. And you need not worry about me following you. There are limits to where I can act, as well as what I can do." The woman was unphased, her tone as calm and unruffled as on the train. Slinging her backpack on, she calmly strode away, stepping in the sticky spots the business man had avoided, and vanishing up a set of regular stairs rather than the escalator.
"Bum." the business man declared at her retreating back, and left for the steak house.
Pleasantly full after a long meal, the business man returned to his house well into the night. The lights were all off, even the small lamp his wife strained her eyes to read or knit by was off. When he got to the kitchen, he found dinner congealed and cold, laid out on the kitchen table. Not even a note, as his wife usually wrote. The children were in their rooms asleep, it seemed, based on their breathing. At first he couldn't find his wife, not even in bed where he had hoped for some pleasurable relations before going back to sleep. It turned out that she was sleeping on the old couch in the rumpus room. He woke her up to order her imperiously to bed.
"I'm not feeling well. You always say it upsets you when you see us sick." she replied indifferently, and turning to face the back of the couch, covered up and shut her eyes. Now frustrated and angry, the business man stomped back up the stairs and pointedly slammed the bedroom door, making enough noise after that to raise everyone else in the house. If he wasn't comfortable, they wouldn't be either.
The next morning he was up at five o'clock and striding outside a half four later. It hadn't been the usual, pleasant, productive morning. There were three other people in the house, but he had become naggingly aware of how empty it seemed anyway. For the first time he had begun to notice not the tiny marks on the wall that he berated the others for making, either themselves or by disturbing him so he swung his briefcase to close to the wall and the like, but the lack of pictures or plants. The kitchen was so clean, the appliances looked almost new. Some of them actually were, but very few. The shoes of his wife and children were stowed away in a little cubicle on the deck, as he had insisted they were tracking across the carpet, ruining it, and the dust from their shoes would ruin the linoleum in the foyer. The foyer had particularly jarred him on the way out. It was as empty as the real estate photos he had consulted before choosing the house.
At the office he discovered that the secretary was gone. A curt note left under his door indicated that she had quit and would not be returning. A second note was from the client he had refused to wait for the previous evening.
"I was quite disappointed to see that you had chosen to abandon our meeting. Seeing that we clearly have sharply differing ideas about relations between providers and clients, I have taken my business elsewhere. Rest assured that none of those business people with similar working habits to mine will plague you in future."
The business man shrugged. It hardly mattered. He was renowned for his tightly run ship, using minimal employees, minimal equipment, and minimal money that did not pass onto his pockets or that of the majority share holders. Profits were always building. The loss of a few clients who couldn't be bothered to respect his time was of no consequence. He stepped into his office, striking the time clock and starting the metronome. Two phone calls, each four minutes. One to to see about having the noisy fluorescence replaced, the other with a search firm for a new secretary. They weren't entirely happy to speak to him. This was the seventh call for a secretary in just over nine years, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find people who would work for him. The word was so widely spread, even immigrants of slim means couldn't be tempted, a tactic the firm had used more than once for practically every position in the company but the business man's own, now.
A nervous knock on his door caused the business man to lift his head. As it happened he actually deliberately faced away from the door, giving only people of certain status at certain times a view of his face. "What do you want?" Considering the knock, it was probably Fletcher from three floors down. The man always seemed to be in a state of catastrophically mangled nerves. Another employee had suggested that this may have been a reflection of Fletcher's fourteen hour days, but the business man had snuffed that idea. He worked fourteen hour days, and was quite well. The person who had pointed out his three hour lunches, four hour afternoon golf games, and regular business trips to various well regarded vacation spots without his family had been summarily fired and physically ejected from the building. Fired employees were never allowed near their desks again, so no one kept personal belongings or information of any type at them.
Fletcher swallowed nervously. "That report you asked for." He made no comment about the difficulties the loss of the secretary had caused. She had left in an admirably restrained manner, but had locked all of the supply cabinets as part of her duties. Realizing once outside of the building she still had the keys, she had simply pitched them into the trash outside the building, which was vacuumed out punctually at seven each morning thanks to the furious harangues of the business man by phone at city hall. The keys were long gone before anyone could have searched for them even if they had known where to look.
The business man flipped slowly through the report, and began listing off flaws without reading it. This process had been carried out four times already. Fletcher listened in silence, but this time, didn't take the report back when the business man finished, or reply to his orders. He simply turned and walked away, out a side door, and apparently down the stairs, his dress shoes clattering eerily loud, so much so it was possible to hear him three floors up and three floors down.
The business man shrugged, pitched the unread report in the trash, and made a second call to the search firm. He was forced to leave a message, the main phone line was unaccountably busy.
Precisely at eleven thirty he got ready to go to today's power lunch, leaving the time clock counting. The employees were officially not allowed to work through lunch hour, which happened to mean they were expected to to keep their jobs, but not allowed to claim the time for the same reason. Riding the elevator down, the business man frowned in surprise, seeing Fletcher in the far elevator in his shirt sleeves, tie askew. The man would have a further mark against him for that, besides his earlier insubordination.
If the business man had been able to watch Fletcher, he would have seen the man wander through the pedestrian and vehicle traffic, dutifully following the lights, but looking so disturbingly vacant eyed it was as if he walked in a bubble. Vacant eyed but desperate of expression, he eventually found his way to a fire escape clambering up the side of an older office building. This was just what he had had in mind. The windows were sealed shut where he worked, for energy efficiency. He climbed patiently up the escape until he came to the roof. He sat down quietly by the rumbling air circulation unit, considering which side of the building would best suit his purpose. He didn't want to make a huge fuss. While Fletcher thought, he gazed unseeing around, moving his head more out of habit to keep the wind from making his eyes tear than for any other reason.
The things to be seen intruded on his awareness. It wasn't noon yet, and the streets were mainly empty. In fact right around here, all there seemed to be were tall buildings full of windows, all coated so that it was impossible to see into the building where people must have been working. The street lights ran through their changes, for no vehicles, and no people. Every city has these moments in one area or another, where for a short time in the middle of a busy day, it looks eerily as if the town has been abruptly deserted, like the Mary Celeste. And so Fletcher had an unobstructed view of a large sidewalk painting, an officially illegal thing placed under the heading of graffiti in the city bylaws. The painting was a view of the city, the buildings cheekily redone with mini murals and bright colours, many buildings drawn as if their windows had been cut out with people in them. Fletcher couldn't see that sort of detail from where he was of course, but he had walked on the painting several times, and noticed that.
All very peculiar. For the first time in many months, his mind cleared. He knew exactly what he would do, and the deeds no longer included jumping off of a building. Quickly climbing down the fire escape again, he hailed a taxi and headed straight for the bus station. The plane was expensive, and he'd need to be frugal for awhile. He made one stop to buy an inexpensive light jacket and a few clothes, then a duffle bag. Then he grabbed a ticket for the first bus to a different city altogether. For quite some time he had been having fantasies about what he would do when he no longer needed to work for the business man. Sitting on top of the building, debating which side to step onto and off of, he had realized he had never needed to work there.
Such epiphanies were not part of the business man's perview. They were unnecessary, in a life in which everything was already being done correctly, and all that was necessary was already known. He sat down on the train and unfolded an issue of a golf magazine. One of his afternoon golf acquaintances had mentioned the article, and it was part of the game that any such article was read and thoroughly understood, to allow discussion of it on the course by all and sundry in the game. Any inability to do so was a serious loss of face.
"Unfortunately, that method does not actually improve your slice." the woman commented mildly, adjusting her backpack by her feet, with its oblong box and hooked together zippers.
"What do you want?" the business man snarled.
"Nothing. I am just supposed to be here as a reminder. I am already provided for." Calm, unoffended.
"So tell me, how do you get away from your handlers?" The woman was obviously some sort of mental patient, but luckily one of the harmless sort, the business man decided.
"You are mistaken. I am not a mental patient. I am not even a messenger. My job is to remind, to bring things to your memory."
"Oh, and you do this for some salary no doubt. Whatever it is I'll double it if you'll go away."
"Money cannot make me go away, because I do not receive money."
"You harass people for free? How kind."
"Yes, actually. Hard as it may seem to believe, I am very kind, especially when you remember. Two people you know have already done that."
The business man held the magazine higher, shielding himself from the woman's unnerving gaze. Always stern pity. Neither sympathy nor empathy, anger nor anything else seemed to disturb this. Just as those emotions did not disturb her even, pleasant voice. The woman shook her head slightly. "I am not trying to hurt you. It is not possible for me to. I am actually trying to help, and that should mean something to you."
Another man in a crisp suit sat down beside her, saying a rough 'excuse me' and actually shoving her over, although she was sitting on less than half of the seat already. He kept shoving her until he could cross one leg over the other and spread himself out. The woman did not turn her gaze from the business man across from her, saying merely, "He will have his turn as well." To the business man's surprise, she got up at the next stop, smoothly extricating herself from both the man who seemed to believe the entire seat belonged to him, and the man struggling to concentrate on his golf article.
But even though she had left, the woman on the train stayed uncomfortably on the business man's mind.
The golf game had gone quite well. The business man's concentration had settled, and he had been able to sound quite knowledgeable throughout the golf game, calmly discussing the article, piloting around the caddy, who looked ever more irritated as the game went on. Even the six cocktails with lunch hadn't been a problem, and several of his compatriots were breathing fire by the end, frustrated because he was playing all of the little games these lunches entailed better than them. Especially when he had won the meeting with the oldest and richest man of the group, a major financial officer in a local hotel chain which also held interests in a variety of oil companies and chemical manufacturers. The man controlled enough money that such meetings almost invariably preceded multi-million dollar deals.
Somehow the business man had half expected to see the woman on the train on the way back to the office. She wasn't there, and the passenger compliment was scattered and small at this time of day. Few business people had things to do that made it easy to be out of the office around three in the afternoon, and on this part of the line the passengers were almost solely workers in the office towers, with their hermetic seals. Two people, one of them seemed to be a man but somehow the business man wasn't quite certain of that, were animatedly talking about their kids. The business man scowled in disgust and tried to tune them out. Now that his children were too grown to be considered small and adorable by strangers, and too ready to challenge him, the business man was finding them increasingly embarrassing. He certainly didn't want to hear about other people's children.
The trip home was also free of the woman's at once discordant and calm presence, and the business man began to think he had seen the last of her. He headed home early and ignored the dinner set out on the table, going to work in his basement office instead. For the first hour he kept yelling at his wife and children upstairs until they finally stopped moving and disturbing him with the sound of their feet on the floor and their voices. Then the absolute silence but for the furnace and the tiny trickle from the hot water tank intruded on him forcibly, and again the curious emptiness of the house weaselled its way into his thoughts. Except for his office, the entire building, even the bathrooms were unused looking. They were emptied every day, on his insistence because he felt they looked messy with trash in them, and he had no desire to get a whiff of any feminine products.
But again his concentration settled, and he had worked through a considerable amount of
bookkeeping before the unnerving sensation of someone watching him through the slightly open door to his office disturbed him. He looked up, but could see no one. Dismissing the feeling as a reaction to the absolute silence but for the house itself, he peevishly turned on a small clock radio, the only radio allowed on when he was home. Bending back over his work, he never saw his daughter walk quietly by, having retrieved a duffle bag from a dusty corner of the rest of the unfinished basement.
His wife and son had also become silent walkers, and all three had found that this was the only way to avoid shouting and misery the few waking hours the business man was home. It was difficult. They had tried everything he asked, listening scrupulously to his demands for years, trying to meet ever fluctuating expectations. Getting what he said he wanted only seemed to make him angrier, and more demanding. The effect was very peculiar, and so barring those things that made it possible for them to tolerate the situation, they had stopped trying.
The business man didn't tend to notice their actions. He tended to notice the objects and tasks that either never got done or he was actually forced to take a hand in himself. Long ago his wife had stopped mixing the special starch he liked for ironing his shirts, and so he had simply begun having them dry cleaned. Things like doilies, handmade blankets, nice meals, all had vanished. High marked school projects never appeared either. Only his jackets were in the hall closet, along with is slippers when he wasn't at work. At first he had tossed these things where his wife would see them and put them away when finished with them. It had taken finding them right where he had dropped them for three weeks before he began grudgingly putting them away himself. There was a cot in the office, and so he slept there, determined to show his wife that he was the one who controlled the absence of certain personal things in their married life.
The next morning he got up and strode briskly towards the children's bedrooms. It was high time they got out of their atrociously lazy work habits, and start getting up in the morning at a decent time. To his surprise, both beds were empty and neatly made. No books or papers were scattered on the floor, nor toys. The blinds were shut, as he tended to demand while insisting the lights weren't to be on either. His bedroom was cool and empty too. The business man scowled. There would be a dressing down tonight, about abandoning the house. It could be robbed while they were out galavanting. He was sure now some school field trip he would have denied permission for the children to attend was what had caused them to be out of the house. The schools set up far too many field trips, to his mind. How going to the public pool in the summer, seeing a play, or walking dully through a museum were educational was quite unclear to him.
To his surprise, the woman on the train was there on his morning trip, sitting even as he was forced to stand and hold a loop made of plastic because there was a crush of people at this time of morning on the train. Mainly blue collar workers heading across town, who would get off over the next three stops, leaving only the business people to go to the centre of town. The woman sat calmly, everything the same, except her skull cap. Usually she had worn one of nondescript grey. Today it was a vivid poppy red that more than a few people were glancing at repeatedly.
"Have you remembered anything else yet?" the woman asked, as imperturbable as ever.
"I don't know what you're talking about. Leave me alone." the business man snapped at her.
"I cannot do that, really. Although, I will not be around again in this form. This is the best that I can do for you." The expression of stern pity had changed to one of stern, cool indifference.
"Oh, let me guess, now you're offended. This is rich." the business man laughed crassly.
"Not at all. Your opinions do not have any value for me. I am here to do a specific job at this time, within specific limits. It is not possible to make you remember, or make you do this thing or that thing." The woman slipped the oblong box out of her bag, and flipping open the lid, began rummaging in it. Eventually she pulled out a pen, and replacing the box drew out a small, very thick book. Carefully, working in between the roughest parts of the trip, she slowly scribed several lines, continuing until the business man could see she had filled a page and a half. "I rather wish you had paid attention to me. After this, it is much less pleasant."
"Are you threatening me?"
"No, not at all. It is simply the truth. Have not I already said, it is not possible for me to hurt you."
The majority of the people near them got off the train at the next stop, leaving the woman and the business man relatively alone. They could see a woman through the tall plate glass window of a train station convenience store, gazing at the labels on rows and rows of various brands of bottled water. Clearly she was looking for one in particular, and finally opened the cooler door, poking her head inside and poking behind the front bottles to others that had differently coloured labels, hoping a stock rotation meant her brand was there after all. She wore very high, very awkward heels and a sleek powersuit, a shiny briefcase gripped in her other hand.
"That is not really what she wants, the thing she is looking for there." The woman on the train commented blandly. The train began to move, slowly pulling out, while the woman in the store continued hunting, glancing between a bottle with a blue label and another with an unusual green label. "Different people need different things." This was so altogether arcane to the business man that he walked away, hunching up by the train door, ready to exit as soon as it stopped next. "The same method cannot be used for every person to jog their memories. And even the correct method does not always work. This you know well."
"Don't you have someone else to bother?" snapped the business man, appalled he could hear her so clearly, even three metres away.
"No, actually. Because there is no one I bother. Think about that, if you can."
At the next stop, the business man stared at the woman on the train, as she walked by him. Saying no further words, and looking towards him not at all, she stepped out, moving easily through the crowd, her peculiarly shabby figure standing out strongly. Somehow she seemed far more resilient, and far more intrusive among the mainly suits and other types of formal clothes-wearing people all around.
Realizing he was about to lose time if he didn't get off the train himself, as this was his own stop, he got out and headed to his office, slapping the time clock. It was only when he opened his briefcase that he discovered a page, apparently torn from the woman on the train's notebook.
"Le terre ghast." was all it said.
Shaking his head in disgust, the business man threw the sheet away, and turned to dealing with his phone messages.
- The End