An exchange.

Two women sit at a table in the library, poring over the puzzle pages of the weekend newspaper.  

“I just don’t get people who do the crossword in pencil.”

“Well, it’s just in case they make a mistake, isn’t it?  Then they can change it.  I do that sometimes with the Sudoku, just because I find it really difficult.”

“I’d never do that.  I trust myself.”

The people you see on the Tube.

He sits in the seat nearest to the door, a black holdall at his feet.  He looks around sixty, bald but with a scruffy beard peppered white and grey.  On the left side of his neck is a surprising tattoo; a pair of extremely lifelike red lips.   

*

As the train speeds away from the platform, I catch a brief glimpse of a young man seated inside the carriage.  He’s dressed in black head-to-toe except for a woolly hat, a bright yellow thing with a diamond pattern knitted into it and fluffy green leaves sewn onto the top.  It’s a pineapple hat.  

*

She’s one of the regular commuters that I often see on my way to work in the mornings.  It’s hard not to notice her; she has a fun and unique sense of style. Today, she is sporting an ensemble that includes glittery hot pink ankle boots, a denim jacket covered in variously-sized fluffy pom-poms and a turquoise beret.  

His inner rebel.

The train grinds to a noisy stop at Charing Cross, doors sliding open to admit a flood of rush-hour commuters.  City workers, tourists, students; all the usual suspects.

A navy-suited man plants himself in the space in front of me, putting his bag on the floor between his feet.  He is serious-looking, his tidy dark hair just beginning to grey and a pair of glasses with thick black frames settled on his nose.  His watch is a chunky silver affair and peeking out of the breast pocket of his suit jacket is a neatly folded pocket square.

However, as he reaches down into his briefcase to retrieve a newspaper, the hem of his trouser leg rides up just enough to reveal that he is wearing bright orange tiger-striped socks.

Jingle all the way.

It’s rush hour on December 23rd and I am changing from the Northern to the Central line at Bank, head down, headphones on and The Beatles playing at full volume as I navigate my way through the winding tunnels.  As luck would have it, the train arrives just as I step onto the platform and I jump on, squeezing into the little gap by the door. 

As the train starts to move, I notice something unexpected; three buskers are making their way slowly towards the end of the carriage, collecting pennies in an old paper cup as they go.  One has a trumpet clutched to his chest, another a saxophone and the third a clarinet.  All three are dressed as Santa Claus.  

With only slight difficulty, they manage to open the door between the cars and pass into the next one, leaving us in mild surprise with a cheery wave and a “Merry Christmas!”  As everyone returns to minding their own business, the woolly-hatted man standing in front of me turns around and grins, a silent acknowledgment between us of the strangeness, sometimes, of London life. 

Lunchtime conversations.

“Wait, what?”

He pauses, a piece of aubergine halfway to his mouth as he looks up at the woman sitting across the table from him.  

“I said, you could just get rid of all those shirts.  It’s not like you ever wear them.”

“Actually, I do.”  Annoyance ripples across his face for a brief instant.  It vanishes as he schools his expression into something attempting to resemble calm.  

“Well…”  She doesn’t elaborate, instead taking a small sip of her beer, avoiding his gaze.  “Anyway, I need the space for my work things.  You know I’m starting that new job soon, and I just want to get everything sorted out before the weekend.”

“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of it, it’s not that stressful.”  His tone is deliberately casual, throwaway.  He knows it will annoy her, but it’s his way of getting back at her about the shirts.  

She glares at him, poking at a solitary coriander leaf lingering at the bottom of the aubergine bowl with her fork.  “Maybe not for you, but it is for me…”

“It really isn’t.”

Listen, why do you always have to fight with me about this?  I just wanted to have a nice lunch…”

Suddenly, the waiter appears at the table with their mains, setting them down with a cheery grin.  “Is there anything else I can get you guys?  Any sauces or anything?”

Taken unawares, they look up at him and shake their heads, smiling politely.  As soon as he is gone, they instantly resume their argument over the plates of fried chicken and pickled cucumber salad, their conversation melting into the general noise of the small dining room.