Art awaited the 6:40 pm train, wearily anticipating the hour-long journey ahead. He was in a bad mood: it had been a difficult day, with a missed deadline resulting in a furious client and an angry boss. He had somehow managed it while his colleague, Paul, had sniggered that Art’s chances of a promotion were adversely affected. Art had a sneaking suspicion he was correct and had a burning desire that Paul should die, painfully. He boarded the silver first class coach as it stopped and was somewhat soothed by the familiar red and white upholstery with the black folding table. He stretched out as he reclined. There was only one other passenger in the coach, a man. As the train started moving, their eyes met briefly as the other moved to the opposite seat and smiled amiably. 'I hope he doesn't talk to me, Art thought and pointedly buried his nose in the newspaper. He didn’t want a conversation but the man held out a hand and introduced himself as Clarke.
Clarke volunteered a lot of information about his life and work as a shop manager in a retail chain with outlets across the City. Not a very exciting job, but it paid the bills.
The small talk shifted to more desultory topics and Art’s eyes wandered, taking in Clarke’s dress sense. A black shirt with black trousers? And a silver chain around his neck? The overdose of black, overlaid with the stark contrast of silver, made Art vaguely apprehensive. As the landscape outside the window turned indistinct, he refocused and wasn’t sure who first brought up the topic of workplace politics. As they spoke he realised Clarke was describing someone from his workplace that sounded like Paul.
“So what's Paul's surname?” asked Clarke.
Art was startled - he had thought of Paul, but was sure he hadn't spoken his name out loud. Am I hallucinating, he wondered, staring at Clarke in confusion. Yet he mechanically said “Watson. Paul Watson”.
Age? 34 years.
Address? (he gave Paul’s address).
“And you'd like to see him lose to you, right? Any which way?” asked Clarke, and Art quietly – albeit reluctantly - agreed. What the hell, he thought, at least talking about it might reduce the bitterness I feel right now. Then he thought, I'm crazy. I'm discussing the office with a complete stranger. This might be Paul's brother for all I know. Not knowing why, he looked at his watch.
Close to home. He picked up his briefcase, folded the newspaper and shuffled to indicate he was getting up.
“Don't worry,” said Clarke, his eyes narrowing (reminding Art of a large, unpleasant lizard- the kind you see in the zoo with a prominent board telling you not to feed it or come too close). “Paul will get sorted out soon.”
Art laughed, politely. He still didn't feel good discussing the office with a complete stranger. He got off at his stop and waved goodbye.
Writing order: Leif Rennes (USA), Ray Stone (Cyprus), Linda Alley (Aus), Hemali Ajmera (India), Anna Zhigareva (Scotland), Rosemary Wakelin (Aus), Mat Clarke (Aus), Donna McTavish (NZ), Suraya Dewing (NZ), Sameer Nagarajan (Sri Linka)