The station was already deserted, the daily commute over hours ago. The shops that would have been bustling during the day, locked up tight and dark. The temperature dropped the lower I descended into the East Ham station.
It was approaching midnight and I waited for the District Line train to Upminster. Not a soul joined me on the platform as the cold wind from the tunnel brushed my face, indicating a carriage was arriving.
The fluorescent lights within flickered as the vehicle drew to a stop, it’s brakes gently screeching. The doors opened with a sigh, almost as if they knew their work day was nearly over. I stepped into the train, the smell of body odour and dozens of perfumes and deodorants mixed to create a unique aroma that assaulted my senses. I grabbed a pole after noticing there were no free seats, this surprised me.
I scanned the faces of the strangers that populated my space for the next twenty minutes or so. Every one of them in their own little world, a combination of people that would have never been in the same place at the same time before. But just one of them took my interest.
He was a man, he wore a red and white pinstripe suit, a rounded brim hat, and brown shoes so shiny you could shave in their reflection. He stared forward and smiled.
I watched the stations come and go, plunging the outside into complete darkness before shining, brightly lit advertisements pimping the latest Westend show or Sky Sports package; the carriage slowly emptying with each stop.
I sat down in a free seat, still intrigued by the man’s out of place look. And with that he laughed. The people sitting next to him ignored this and carried on tapping their phones, until they reached their stations and in turn left. But the man in the pinstripe laughed through it all.
I watched the others, not even batting an eyelid to this strange behaviour, until it was just him and I.
The laughs, chuckles and guffaws were interspersed with a dead eye stare and a face that communicated an absolute seriousness that a surgeon would display concentrating on making that incision so close to an artery that one slip would mean spurty death.
I moved to the front of the train, hearing the laugher behind me, not wanting to turn around. When I did, I laughed. I saw the in ear headphone dangling down his face, into his suit.
With relief, I said, “What are you listening to? Must be really funny!”
He turned his head and took out his earphone. The train began to slow. He looked me up and down and then returned his gaze to the glass opposite him and began to laugh again.
The carriage drew to a stop and I waited in front of the doors, willing them open. As they slowly parted, I looked back. He was standing behind me, smiling widely, breathing heavily over my shoulder.
I ran out into the empty platform, the giggling and howling reverberating throughout the station, getting quieter the further I ran. I put my hands on my knees and breathed heavily. Looking back at the carriage as it gradually worked up speed. The train was empty.
In a panic I ran through the station, the slaps of my feet echoing in the large building. The icy London air hit me like a freight train as I exited the building. A taxi waited for his final passenger of the night.
“Excuse me, could you take me home? I’m only around the corner?” I asked through the open window.
The man looked at me, smiled and laughed. I felt the colour drain from my face, I turned heel and ran. I sidled past pedestrians, snaking through the human traffic, heading for my house.
A woman struggled to lift her child’s buggy over the pavement, I slowed.
“Let me help you with that,” I said, taking hold of the cold aluminium frame.
I pulled the relatively light apparatus onto the sidewalk.
“Thank you, sir,” she replied giggling, looking me in the eye before bursting into laugher.
Dread filled me and I sprinted the final hundred yards to my flat. I slowed, fumbling for my keys. I slotted them into the door, opened it and slammed it behind me.
Knocks rattled the woodwork. I peered through the peephole, there stood the pinstripe man, the taxi driver and the woman, all wearing a sinister smile that stretched their cheeks to breaking point.
I ran up the stairs, taking two at a time and arrived at my apartment. I sighed with relief to be back at my safe place, affording myself a little chuckle. It was with that, being back in my home I remembered; I’d not taken my medication. I entered the bathroom, opening up the cabinet above the sink; it was empty.
Panicked, I took out my phone and called my girlfriend.
“Hello Jenny,” I said as she answered.
“Hi Honey,” she replied, a dance beat thumped in the background.
“I didn’t take my medication today, do you know where it is?”
“Hahaha, you idiot, how can you forget that?” she said, mocking me.
“Yeah,” I responded, giggling myself, “What an idiot!”
“You know you’re not allowed to contact me anymore, the restraining order is still in place. Don’t make me enforce it,” she said now serious.
I looked at the unlit screen, furiously trying to hang up with no luck. It was dead, for how long I didn’t know.
I heard the laughter screech out the internal speaker and fell onto the bed.
Ha ha ha. Help me! Ha ha ha