On the train I have my eyes closed. A state close to sleep, but not quite. I hear the noises of the train and am conscious of not having enough knee room. I would like to sleep, but find the worry of sleeping past my stop always prevents me. I have woken up in railway sidings before - an odd experience as you have to wait, alone, for the train to sneak back into the station before you can disembark. The train is cold, silent, dark, spooky even.
So, in near-sleep I hear the doors open and a terrible smell enters. Jesus, I think to myself, what a terrible smell. The smell gets stronger and I calculate that the person responsible for the smell is getting closer. Closer. Closer. Closer, and, yes, it sits down next to me.
I pull a long face, keeping my eyes closed, designed to make my nostrils into vertical slits, but it doesn't work and the smell is relentless in its assault.
I try and place the odour. The best I can come up with is bad teeth, cheese and onion, and farts.
How can this man not know that he smells this bad? Does he not have eyes to see the reaction that must come over people as he talks to them? Does he think everyone reacts that way to everybody else? Does he not observe?
I'm always disturbed by people's lack of observation. How oblivious to the world many of us seem. Perhaps I'm too conscious - I'm forever moving out of people's way, stopping making irritating noises, holding open doors, catching bags knocked off tables, ducking under street gossipers' wildly used hands, and so forth. So, to not be able to notice the fact that you stink, to me, is, frankly, a poor show.
I wake myself up and read my book, perhaps visual sensory input will help distract from the olfactory? The first line I read is a man saying the words, 'Ah, perfidious Albion'.
Perfidious is a word that likely to get you into fights in certain pubs in the country. What the hell does it mean anyway? I know it means nasty, somehow, but the exact definition escapes me, I promise to myself to look it up later (disloyal, deceitful, base, low...)
Thinking of rough pubs brings to mind a pub in Carlisle I was once passing through on some long forgotten journey: I was in the bathroom of the pub, washing my hands (some of us do), when a terrier-looking, thin psychopath walked in and stared at me in the mirror. My heart skipped a few times, not for joy, and I ignored him.
He is eyeing up my jewellery it seems, as he turns to me and says,
'Put this in for us.'
And hands me a gold earring hoop with a Christian cross dangling from it.
I stare at him and he turns his head to one side and sticks an ear in my direction. It has a silver stud in the lobe.
Now, intimacy in the bathroom may be something that women are comfortable with, but your average man doesn't generally do anything more personal than stand next to other men with his penis in his hand. Hmm, well, I suppose that does seem quite intimate.
Anyway, with my shaking hands, and eyeing the prison-esque neck tattoos, I manage to pry out the stud. My fingers are waxy. I resist the urge to sniff them.
The hoop is hard to get in and I twist his ear quite hard, reddening it severely. He doesn't seem to notice.
Finally it's in and I tell him.
He merely nods and walks out of the bathroom...
All this thoughtfulness has allowed me ten minutes respite from stink-man, but I'm brought back to reality by another smell. Ah, oh my god it's beautiful. It's the smell of heaven after an eternity in the dunghills of hell.
The stink-man has opened an orange and the smell has flooded the whole train cabin. I sniff it in, greedily.
It doesn't last though, and a few minutes later I'm back in farty cheese and onion land.