Little Pieces of Paper

Man in rather weary looking business suit, sitting directly opposite gets on at Bath, gets off at Salisbury. Sunken eyes, messy hair. Mid-40s

This was not people watching, for this man spoke to me. I don’t intend to paint this man in a negative light for what he would go on to tell me would be extremely compelling and change my perception, not necessarily for the better.

“How old are you lad?” His accent was Northern, his voice impeccable as if he had never had a sore throat in his life. I told him I was seventeen, lying for no reason whatsoever, I was sixteen. “You’re at school”, “Yes.” Something about him made me feel as if he hadn’t asked a question. “Why?” This was certainly a question and one that had taken me by surprise. “Sorry?” I replied in a questioning manner.

“What are you doing at school lad, why are you there?” I replied and told him the subjects I was taking, English, History, French and Spanish. “For what? Why are you bothering?” This made me somewhat uncomfortable, why did he care, why was he challenging me on this insignificant point?

“I’m sorry son but what’s the point to it all? You will go to school and take your exams, slave all your hours away under immense pressure for what? You will receive a piece of paper with a letter on it promising that you are intelligent. This piece of paper will allow you to do more studying and take more exams, paying for the privilege, which will then lead to another piece of paper promising further intelligence. This one might even be fucking laminated. That laminated piece of paper allows you to get a job, entitling to more work which you will earn lots of little pieces of paper which you will pay someone to take care of for you. Your life and mine and everyone else’s are completely dependant on how many little pieces of paper you have. The person with the most wins. You spend your life collecting little pieces of paper until you die and only then do you realise that there really was no point to it whatsoever.”

He stood up and got off the train, perhaps he did it for dramatic effect and now was stuck in Salisbury when he lived in Gosport.

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The Mystery Magician

Woman sitting opposite, white hair, older, thin red scarf, pink purse.

I know nothing of this woman, I can’t even remember where she got on. She was wearing a large fur coat but took it off revealing striped top with the sleeves rolled up to just below the elbows. I don’t know why the sleeves are rolled up, I’m a bit cold. I imagine she’s a magician who was once accused of having something up her sleeve and now has them rolled up at all times. Maybe it was the scarf she now wears around her neck. Perhaps she is an emergency magician, quickly whipping off the scarf and stuffing it into her fist wherever she is needed.

She carries a photo of a small child in her purse. This opens up an, again, immense number of questions. Who is the child? Daughter? Granddaughter? I can imagine her eyes lighting up with the unconditional love afforded to the child, who may no longer be a child, at every opportunity. I observe it first hand as she opens her purse to take out her ticket. The child complains when they see it, “it’s so embarrassing get rid of it”. She refuses, the photo remains a small fragment of a time that has passed. An attempt to extract a moment and freeze it in that small plastic wallet in her purse. To some extent she succeeds, the photo provokes memories to resurface at every occasion. Of course I know none if this in reality but an hour sitting opposite someone gives you an insight into their world. You need not say one word to them, you need not stare at them incessantly, just to notice. I’ll never know if they are right or if they are completely wrong.