by Eve Davies.
It was an early spring morning on Penarth platform. Martha stood awaiting the northward train. She was heading into the city to do some shopping. It was the first morning of the year that she had swapped her thick wrap coat for a lighter anorak. The sun resumed her place in the cloudless blue sky, promising a fine day ahead. Martha had her smartphone, protected by a pink leather flip case, in hand, displaying her e-ticket like a badge of her technological knowledge; although it was only there thanks to her granddaughter who introduced her to e-tickets at the weekend. She was tapping her patent loafers from toe to heel and humming to herself when she heard a train grumble in the distance.
‘Perfectly on time,’ she said through a smile to the young man waiting next to her, who, deafened between two earphones, made no reply. Behind him, she stepped onto the train.
The temperature dropped. Clearly, they’d been eager with the air con, which sent a shiver down Martha’s back as she passed under the door. She waded down the aisles of earphoned heads engrossed in LCD screens. She was careful not to hit any elbows with her handbag bulging on her thigh. Eventually, Martha found a seat, next to a pleasant-looking lady scrolling through dense spreadsheets on a tablet screen.
‘Lovely day,’ Martha chirped as she battled her handbag off of her shoulder and seated herself down. The lady raised her head, smiled pathetically, and returned to her world of figures all within three seconds. Martha perched on the geometrical patterns and rested her hands upon her handbag. Her wedding ring glistened when the sun beamed through the window, reminding her of her dear Gerard and their train journeys; how filled with chatter and laughter they were. Not wanting to disturb the lady at work, Martha kept quiet. The occasional ping of her phone was the only token of the lady’s presence next to Martha. Excusing that and the odd sniffle or cough, the remainder of the journey elapsed in silence. Martha occupied herself watching the unfurling scenery out of the window: endless rows of terraced gardens, industrial estates, and grassland.
Leaving the train, Martha was carried out onto the main street by the tide of business suits, briefcases, and rucksacks. She quickly headed to her favourite coffee haunt for her caffeine fix.
‘Can I get an extra hot, skinny skimmed late, with an extra shot please?’ she ordered at the counter.
‘Certainly,’ replied the young girl behind the iPad till with a furtive eye-roll. ‘That’ll be three pounds and sixty pence please.’ Martha fumbled in her purse for an extra twenty pence. ‘Oh sorry, we only take card.’
‘No problem,’ Martha said and retrieved her bank card instead. She paid and took a step back while the barista topped her latte with a pristine, white rosette.
She stood surveying the café for a moment, and a wave of sadness dawned upon Martha. She looked around to see a table of four girls. They looked almost identical in their leather jackets. They were not talking to each other but scrolling on their phone screens. Martha overheard some of their conversation.
‘Do you think I should delete this? It only got one hundred likes.’
‘She can’t be that special; she only has one thousand followers.
What a bizarre way to speak she thought; one hundred likes and one thousand followers sounds like an awful lot to me.
She moved her eyes across to see a young couple. Again, not smiling at each other, but smiling into their individual screens while single-handedly shovelling jacket potatoes into their mouths. She welled with emotion and felt an urge to approach them; to tell them to give each other attention, for time is but limited. How she longed to be sat across the table from Gerald for one more lunch date or evening dinner.
In the far corner, her eyes met the most piteous tableau of them all. There sat a grandfather, pristinely dressed in an emerald flannel shirt and a beige cashmere jumper, opposite his granddaughter. He was left to his solitary musings while she sat carelessly flicking her phone screen. The elder man had his hands upon the table with his fingers neatly entwined. Occasionally, he scrunched his nose to raise his spectacles while looking upon his granddaughter. He attempted to spark a conversation but every time she answered with single syllables or ignored him.
‘Lovely day isn’t it dear.’
‘How’s school been lately?’
Martha’s eyes were overcome by a mist of tears. The pit of her stomach turned cold. She felt an urge to go and shake the girl and confiscate her phone.
‘Extra hot skinny late,’ called the barista. Martha remained transfixed. ‘Excuse me…. Madam.’ Martha blinked herself into consciousness, attempting to dispel the tears.
‘Oh, I’m ever so sorry. I was just – just looking around. These phones – they are like life support systems in our days.’
‘I guess you could call them that,’ replied the barista, ‘but that’s just the way things are.’
(Congratulations to Eve on winning the Cardiff University Residence Life Pen and Paper Writing Competition!)