by Russ

Carly eased herself into the table seat. She offered a cursory nod to the lad opposite, then another to the large backpack occupying the seat next to him.

The first thing Kent noticed was her hair. It was frizzy from the rain and brought a great smell into the carriage. He saw her twitch toward him, that weird way Brits seemed to, and flashed his teeth in return.

Attractive, thought Carly, just the right amount of beard growth and perfect teeth. She pushed her hair behind her ears and tried to forget that she’d just said hello to his luggage.

She noticed his book.

‘Orwell?’ Carly heard the word as if someone else had said it.

It took Kent a moment to translate her accent, but he managed to piece it together before asking what an Erwool was. He lifted the paperback in acknowledgement.

‘Bit of research,’ he said. ‘Getting a sense of the culture.’

American. Carly realised she’d never heard one in real life before. She liked it, the accent, which she never thought she would.

‘Animal Farm’s probably not the right choice,’ she said, still not sure she was in control of her words and desperately hoping she didn’t sound condescending. ‘Maybe try Keep The Aspidistra Flying.’

Kent had no idea.

‘Aspidy what?’ he winced at how dumb he sounded. She had kind eyes, he thought.

‘Aspidist….’ Carly paused mid-word. Between the accent barrier and the constant engine drone, this wasn’t going to work. She waved for him to hand her the book and he did. She flipped to the list of Other Works then laid the book flat, facing him, and pointed.

‘As-pid-is-tra,’ he read slowly before looking up.

They made eye contact, something fizzed.

‘Or there’s always The Road to Wigan Pier…’ she giggled, breaking away and looking towards the window, only to end up staring into the eyes of his reflection instead.

‘Wigan. As in the place I just went through? It has a pier?’ Kent was incredulous. “There is no way that town is on the coast.”

‘No, it…’ Carly gave up the explanation, waving the words away with her hand. They were pulling into Deansgate, she twisted to grab her bag.

‘My name’s Kent,’ he held his hand across the table.

‘Carly,’ she returned, once she realised what was going on.

They shook hands, there was a crackle of electricity and they both pulled away. Carly decided she could get off at the next station.

Kent smiled ineffectually and frantically tried to think of something else to say. Carly looked out of the window.

The train terminated at Piccadilly. Kent was nearest the door so Carly followed him off. As they stepped onto the platform he turned around, his oversized bag swinging behind him.

‘Bye, Carly,’ he said, then, for lack of anything else ‘Have a nice, er, night!’

Carly nodded and smiled as he left. Across the platforms she saw the last tram of the night rolling out, knowing she should be stood at Deansgate waiting for it.