The Gap

If she’d looked up from her phone just at that moment then she’d have seen him flying from the tube, all hair and shirt tails, scrabbling to retrieve his bag, sent soaring with a force of impact that had destabilised him. It’d been the old guy with the wheelie-case who’d been scowling at everyone younger than sixty for the whole twelve minute journey he’d sat across from him. He’d tried to understand, though; imagined the man might have troubles not clear from the outside; perhaps in a lot of pain the way older people can be. Maybe his wife had died; maybe his dog. You can’t judge people; his mum taught him that.

If she’d happened to raise her eyes she’d might have noticed how there’d become an oasis of space where people were moving as hurriedly as they still could, around this clumsy, scruffy person trying to salvage the scattered papers he’d been holding before being so unceremoniously shunted off balance. Impatient faces had scowled down at the prone figure, reaching for the strewn contents, whilst endeavouring to dodge the constant influx of feet,legs and swinging arms. Maybe she’d have wondered what was going on, if she’d lifted her eyes and seen this.

If she’d consulted the clock high on the wall at the back of the station instead of knowing the time was on her phone, then she’d have found herself staring straight at him just at the moment he’d finally managed to right himself, rearranging his clothing. He’d adjusted the arms of his jacket which had skewed in the scuffle, tugged his tie straight which had become wedged under one arm, attempted to smooth back fallen hair obscuring one eye. He’d stared up at the clock, knowing it was there, patting pockets to ensure his phone hadn’t become dislodged or stolen in the commotion. When he’d turned his head back again, clearing his throat as if he’d done nothing more than casually, purposefully stepped from the train as hundreds of others had just done, he’d seen her.

If she’d looked up she couldn’t have missed the height of him, the breadth of his shoulders, determination in the way his jaw set perpendicular from his chest; a man of purpose who knew who he was and where he was going. He was going to be seven minutes late, though, since he’d been off-balanced by that sour-faced person who might, of course, be on his way to a doctor’s office to be told his condition was inoperable; there could be that. It wouldn’t topple his day though, why should it? Because being ten minutes late was always preferable to being somewhere else ten years too early. His dad had taught him that.

She’d have seen, had she taken her eyes from her phone, that he was handsome in a school-boyish way; had an inquisitiveness about him that conveyed innocence and held beliefs carried through generations of his family that would see him always looking for the brightness in things, however dark, however distant. She’d have seen in him possibilities far greater, more honest than the message she currently struggled to make sense of; would have been heartened by the set of his gaze that there were much better people out there than this one, breaking her heart constantly.

Reaching for his phone to relay his impending lateness, he swept an apology across the screen. When he looked up again he saw the girl was gone and, in her place, a gap.

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink image prompt competition, 4th June, 2020

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