half a man
Thirty minutes was a long time to kill for Daniel Sparrowgate. It was half an hour more than he wanted to spend alone with his thoughts, though being alone with his thoughts is exactly the excuse he’d given his girlfriend for going away so suddenly. The train would probably arrive late too. Even if it did arrive on time, the journey to London was still hellishly long. Daniel Sparrowgate sighed.
One of the best things to do at station platforms, Daniel Sparrowgate had found, was people watch. It was good to do on trains as well but he generally found those environs unreliable for such a practice. One had to remain where one was when one sat on the train - conversations were obscured by too many obstacles. Whereas if one stood on a platform one could aimlessly meander as one pleased, taking in the scenery while anonymously dropping eaves.
It was the man with the severed arm that caught Daniel’s attention, the sleeve tied up in a knot at what he supposed was the nub. Daniel imagined he saw desperation in the man’s eyes, or despair. In any case the man looked tired. His head hung low, his mud-brown beard straggly, his face battered and grey.
Weathered, thought Daniel. What a pity.
One could certainly appreciate one’s life when one looked upon an individual such as that. One could count one’s blessings. Daniel Sparrowgate did. He imagined how this man must have suffered. Perhaps he was the victim of some industrial accident. Perhaps it was a birth defect. Perhaps it was because he had been riding a motorcycle rather too foolishly and the wheels of a skidding car had scrambled the unfortunate limb.
Withered, thought Daniel. What a fucking shame.
Daniel Sparrowgate was ugly and knew it, but he felt perhaps that this was a minor handicap compared to the man with one arm. Daniel’s girlfriend claimed that she saw beyond his looks. He had hit her when she said that to him. But could one see beyond a stub for an arm? Daniel Sparrowgate thought it improbable. He imagined the man leaned against a nightclub pillar, smiling sweetly at a young pretty girl, just turned eighteen. He imagined the girl would be coy, twirling her hair through her fingers and grinning sheepishly, occasionally catching glances at the man’s rugged chin and bright blue eyes. Then the man would offer a drink and move away from the pillar, which had concealed his deformity. The girl would smile and agree but the light would be gone from her eyes. When he returned she would be gone.
Still, thought Daniel Sparrowgate, perhaps the dismembered man was luckier than he had originally considered. He wouldn’t have to constantly worry about looking attractive to the opposite sex, as the effort of course would have eventually proven to be entirely futile. And perhaps his disability enabled him to get into jobs, employers anxious to seem fashionably right on - and not to be recognised as hateful fascist discriminators.
Maybe the disfigured freak was best out of ‘love’ and all that it entailed. He would never have his girlfriend embarrass him with vile flirtations with other men. He would never have to hit a girl for misbehaving, when she wasn’t doing as she was told. He would never be made to feel guilty and have to buy his girlfriend expensive gifts.
Daniel Sparrowgate considered that it may be time to trade in for a younger model. He had been with the bitch far too long. Sometimes, to look at her, she made him want to retch. She knew better than to nag, but sometimes when she flittered about the place, fussing, he thought he could hear her mutter beneath her breath, as she collected a dirty plate or a stray sock. He did not know what she said, only that he was not meant to hear. That made him want to retch too.
Daniel Sparrowgate planned to get laid. He was to meet some friends at Heathrow and together they would go to Ibiza and get drunk. He would try to get some beautiful girl drunk enough to fuck or, more likely, he would get himself so drunk he would not care who he fucked. It wasn’t cheating if it wasn’t in the same country, he told himself. Then, after two weeks of drinking and debauchery he would return to his reliable old girlfriend. And maybe after two weeks of fucking ugly, easy slags his girlfriend would look prettier.
The train arrived, two minutes late, and Daniel Sparrowgate reluctantly left the platform and his view of the unfortunate man to clamber on and find himself a decent seat. He hoped there would be a buffet car or a trolley, he wanted to get drunk early. He pushed through the crowd, breathing heavily on the necks of those in front to make them flinch, allowing him the opportunity to shove away the upstarts who would deny him prime location. There were several pissed-off looks which he chose to ignore. Daniel Sparrowgate settled into a seat by the window, stretching his feet over to the opposite seat and piling his belongings on the chair next to him. Shortly after everyone was seated, an old woman with a shawl and a plastic collection box came round soliciting funds for victims of the tsunami. Daniel Sparrowgate looked away and saw the man with half an arm through the window.
He was smiling, looking over to someone familiar, just out of Daniel’s view. The announcer confirmed the destinations and Daniel fished about in his pocket for his tickets. He looked up again to see the man with half an arm talking to a girl in a red coat, with flowing black hair and pale skin. She had three kids in tow. She was smiling coyly at him, playing with her hair and catching glances at his rugged chin and bright blue eyes. They laughed and kissed, a long and passionate kiss, and the man with half an arm embraced her with his other. She embraced him with hers. They looked to be in love.
Daniel Sparrowgate wished he could take the other arm too.