She sat alone in the carriage as the train rolled onwards, eating the track, heading into the heart of the heartless city. The city that sprawled across England’s landscape like a tramp in a Saville Row suit: no matter how you dressed it up, it still stank of neglect underneath.
This wasn’t her city, this wasn’t her love. Her soul was pure Parisian but she was realistic enough to know that the two cities told a similar tale and were undeniably cut from the same cloth. The same, she supposed, as all big cities, everywhere.
She was here to study and, maybe, in another two years she’d want to stay, but for the moment she was still trying to find her feet. She missed home. The international students she’d met were okay, some better than others, but les anglais…they were as culturally alien to her as Martians. Their gruff voices always seeming to be shouting, the bland food…ah, but the list could stretch on. Such near neighbours yet so completely different.
She ignored the grey sky that matched the grey buildings outside the window next to her, her attention taken by the paperback she was reading. The Lover by Marguerite Duras; her favourite book and one that she had enjoyed three times before. Her passion was literature: reading and discussing books with her friends. Since she had been in this country she had not had a decent conversation about books. She was so far from home.
The train shuddered to a halt outside Wembley Stadium and suddenly the peace was shattered as the carriage suddenly filled with men. She scolded herself for not noticing there was a match on, a fact if known that would have changed her travel plans.
They were loud and boisterous, their language foul and littered with Anglo-Saxon swearwords, some of which she didn’t know the translated version of in French. It was obvious that their team had won, although what team it was she couldn’t be certain. There were no scarves or hats in their team colours. Their clothes were expensive with designer labels, the uniform of the English hooligan.
She would show no fear, she wouldn’t acknowledge their presence; her eyes glued to the book, she hoped they would just ignore her. The one who sat next to her was talking to his friends and paying her no heed. She’d barely glanced at him as he sat down but she’d taken in his close cropped hair and slightly off-centre nose. The only thing that identified him as human was the slight scent of Givenchy aftershave that caressed her more delicate nose.
After a while she became aware that the one next to her was staring down at her book. He was probably trying to figure out why the words weren’t familiar to him, yet even if it was written in English she doubted he’d be able to read it.
“What are you reading?” he asked. She resisted the urge to employ some old-fashioned English sarcasm by telling him it was called a book, best not to antagonise the ape. Instead she flashed the cover to him, not that it would make much difference. “I haven’t read that,” he admitted. No surprise there then. Hopefully that would be the end of the conversation.
“What’s your name?”
She wasn’t going to be let off that easily, but she was determined not to let him see she was intimidated by him. She lifted her chin proudly, “Ophelia.”
“You’ve read Hamlet?” She tried hard not to put too much emphasis on You’ve. Yet she couldn’t help being amazed that he knew that Ophelia was a character in Shakespeare’s play.
“Sure,” he replied, “he lost the plot and she topped herself.”
She turned to look at him properly for the first time. His nose, while quite clearly once broken, gave his face character. His smile was boyish and warm and his eyes were…were…so blue. She was intrigued, she was interested!
“So what is your name?” She asked, her hand involuntarily moving to touch her dark hair before she could stop it.
His friends all laughed and, despite herself, she laughed too. Then the carriage was gone, his loud friends were gone, the soot-black tunnel outside was gone. There existed only his eyes, the subtle aroma of Givenchy that filled her senses and that moment.
The train slowed and heaved itself to a tired halt. The mob rose as one and shuffled through the doors as they slid open. He rose and followed. Then, turning at the door he smiled back at her and mouthed au revoir. The doors closed and he was gone. She sat alone. Ophelia stared at the space he had so recently vacated and whispered to herself “…and the rest is silence.”