“Back today?” he asks, not meeting my gaze, and doing that thing with his lip.
I stand at the counter and I bunch my fists and I try to Maintain Calm.
“I know why you’re asking,” I want to tell him. “I know what you’re going to say.”
Okay, so I’ve heard him ask others. The guy in front of me only going one stop,
He asked him, too. Same tone of voice. Same failure to meet gaze. Same chew on the lip.
But he has got to know.
“You have got to know,” I want to tell Back Today Man. “Not just that we can’t come back another day if our journey’s not long enough. You know that. I bet you’ve got the British Rail rulebook tattooed under your string vest. I bet you recite it before your Olvatine at night.
No. You have got to know that it is Very Annoying to be asked a thing that is entirely pointless and that you only seem to ask because you like telling people that they can’t come back tomorrow. Or next month. Or any flipping day other than this day.
You know that. You have to. You must have bought a ticket yourself sometime in your life.
You must have had someone do it to you.
“Yes,” I tell him, waiting to see if there’s a look of irritation. To see if I’ve spoiled his fun.
But he just presses the relevant button, waits for tickets to be spat out of the machine, somehow manages a sip of his Very Beige tea before he hands them over to me.
Nothing else. There never is. Not even a “have a nice trip”.
And I head out to the platform and I fume at the trolling from a man too old, surely,
To even know what trolling is.
I watch for the train and I pace the platform and, out of the corner of my eye,
I catch old “Back Today” as he shuffles in slippers – slippers! – out of the side door
To the ticket office and shuffle slaps his way slowly to staffroom and armchair.
And I think for a moment, you’ve got this wrong here, mate.
You’ve given him the wrong answer each and every time.
Along with maybe everyone else he’s ever served on this down-at-heel branch line.
Tomorrow, I tell myself, I’ll give it a go.
Before he even has chance to ask, I’ll give him a journey where it’s not even possible to come back the same day.
I’ll give him a journey I’m not even intending to take and
I’ll make him look it all up in that timetable of his.
I’ll have him print out multiple tickets at multiple prices for multiple networks.
I’ll rattle that British Rail rulebook know-how in his noggin for all it is worth.
Because maybe that’s what he’s asking for to keep the mundanity back,
If only just today.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018’s “Not So Funny Now” about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Brown Bag.