Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Strangers at Midnight

The platform was abandoned. I don't know which sound I heard first, the high-pitched rapid beeping that indicated the doors were closing or the shouting. But as I looked up to see him, fists clenched, shouting at the girl, it was too late. The doors were shut and the train had begun to pull out of the station. There was nothing I could do to stop it except watch them slowly disappear into the night. He was spitting fury at her. The girl was cowering in fear, with tears in her eyes, but she looked ready to fight if she needed to. She was desperate and nobody cared to help her. I could see other passengers through the window as the train passed, just sitting there doing nothing. They were pretending they couldn't hear them arguing and were trying to ignore them; just hoping they would go away. I hoped he would stop shouting. I hoped he wouldn't hit the girl.

It was cold and it was wet and I had missed the last bus for the final leg of my journey home. I would have to wait for the first night bus and try to forget about the girl, frightened and crying. I didn't know what to do, or where to go, so I did what I always do. I looked for a bar. That image was going to haunt me all night.

Walking out of the station I soon realised my chances of finding a drink were slim. Everywhere was either closed or completely boarded up. Every shop sign was turned off and there wasn't another soul out on the street except for me. The bright lights of the big city aren't so pretty on a lonely Sunday night. I stared at my feet as I walked down the road, trying to forget the girl. The rain began to fall again, rippling in the puddles and breaking up the reflections of the lampposts and the moon. Turning the corner I could see a solitary light coming from a window and there were people inside, drinking. Finally things looked promising.

Inside the smell of stale booze hung in the air and the hard floor was sticky. The manager approached me.
"Are you still open?"
"Yes, yes, come in. But we're closing shortly."
It was music to my ears and with it I waltzed to the bar where the barman was wiping down surfaces. With no beer on tap I focussed on the fridge full of bottled beers at the back. My vision was hazy and I started to realise quite how drunk I actually was. I picked out the only bottle I recognised, a bottle of Desperados. I knew it would be a good beer, strong too. I liked the sound of its name as it fell from my lips. I paid, collected my change and sat down at the nearest table to drink.

Taking mouthful after mouthful of beer, I kept seeing the girl calling to me for help. Tears streamed from her blackened eyes and her bleeding lip trembled. I was lost in my own imagination when the manager came to ask me if I was okay. He startled me. We talked for a while about where I'd spent the rest of my evening and about late night bars. He told me business was slow and so he couldn't afford to turn away late arrivals. Soon the only other customers that were left had joined in the conversation and asked me to sit with them. I got to talking to one guy who played saxophone for a wedding band and he told me all about his weekend. He told me about the wedding he'd played the day before and how it had been a beautiful ceremony. He also told me about his Sunday afternoon spent fishing on his friend's boat. His friend, sitting next to him, beamed when he heard this. It had rained hard and they had caught nothing, but the beer on board was cold and plentiful, which is all they really cared for. They invited me to join them sometime just as the manager returned to the table to offer us more drinks. Apparently he should've shut an hour ago, but business is business and he needed the money. He told us we were good people and the conversation and the beer continued to flow. Before I knew it I had forgotten about the bus home I was supposed to be waiting for. Before I knew it I had forgotten all about the girl.