Welcome to the August issue of Short Stories by me, Catherine Skeet-Yaffe. This month’s jumping off point was “The Woman Sitting Opposite Me Was Crying.”
The woman sitting opposite was crying. I never know what to do in these circumstances. Is it appropriate to approach someone and ask if they’re OK? Will she think I’m odd for showing concern? There’s no one in the carriage but the 2 of us, and as my stop approaches I become more concerned as her quiet sobbing turns into great gasps of emotion. I’m only human, so I move from my seat and sit closer.
“Are you OK?” I ask
She looks up at me, confused, eyes red and swollen.
She dips her head back down and slowly shakes it left to right.
Why don’t I carry a handkerchief with me? Father always used to say a gentleman carried a ‘kerchief’ not for himself but for others. I fumble in the pocket of my overcoat knowing there must be a crumpled but unused tissue in there somewhere. After what seems like an age I locate it and proffer it to the woman.
“Can I do anything to help? I enquire
Silence, gentle hiccoughing as she tries to contain her tears.
Eventually I hear a mumbled reply that’s difficult to make out, “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I didn’t mean to kill him” she says, slowing raising her head to look at me.
Well, of all the things I expected her to say that wasn’t one of them. I’m not sure what to do or say now. How do you respond to that? My boarding school upbringing wants to tap her on the knee on say “there, there, I’m sure it will be fine” but that seems highly inappropriate.
“Erm, is there anyone I can call for you?” I suggest, hoping to extricate myself from the situation and pass the responsibility for the admission onto someone else’s shoulders.
The sobbing starts again, louder this time. I think I read somewhere once that in certain religions and cultures the louder and more visibly you express your grief the more you loved the person. I’m not sure this is true or relevant in this situation but I’m floundering for something else to say.
“Would you like me to call the police”
At this the sobbing turns to howling, gut wrenching raw visceral emotion the likes of which I’ve never seen or heard.
“OK, ok” I lean forward across the seats and lightly tap her knee. My stop is approaching but I feel unable to leave this woman who is so clearly in distress. The train driver! I’ll contact him. But how? And where do they sit? I can’t pull the emergency cord so what to do next. I turn and look up and down the adjacent carriages hoping there’s some kind of conductor or person of authority but nothing.
“There must be someone I can call for you?” I ask again, “Someone who can meet you?”
“There’s no one” she mumbles again through tear soaked lips, “He was the last and now I have no one”
Why did I even bother to come over? I have fillet steak and dauphinoise potatoes waiting for me at home along with a large glass of Chateau Neuf De Pap. I really don’t need this. I have no clue what to do. I stand to take my leave and wish her well but as I walk away she reaches out and grabs the tail of my coat.
“Don’t leave me” she implores, “What am I supposed to do?”
I’ve had enough of this charade now, and turn to face her.
“Madam, if, as you say you, killed someone then you must obey the law and contact the police.” I assert with a certain amount of authority. “It is unfair of you to put this on me when I don’t even know you, and all I was doing was my civic duty towards another citizen. The taking of someone else’s life is a legal matter, not mine.”
With this I march off into another carriage, leaving the woman looking lost and confused.
My stop has arrived and disembark the train to head home for a large glass of red and my previously inconsequential life as a criminal barrister.
©2019 Catherine Skeet-Yaffe. All rights reserved.