The Benefactor

It’s summer. There’re tourists. And they’re everywhere.

Tourists with their over-sized bags, exploiting a luggage-shaped loop hole in the ‘stand on the right’ request.

Tourists with their pocket-sized maps, and an unusual need to ask every passenger on the platform if this train stops at Paddington.

And tourists with their children, cleverly using them as guided missiles to push into spaces other commuters can’t reach, to secure a prime spot in the carriage.

The visitors on my train have done just that. The daughter is cleverly positioned on the floor by the doors, guaranteeing some luxury level access to air for her and her Mum, knowing that (most) others will avoid accidentally treading on a child.

Their teamwork, however, still needs some refinement.

‘Melissa, will you please stop flinging that bottle around’

‘But Mum, what does it say?’

‘What does what say?’

‘This word?’

‘What word?’

‘This word! In…hanks?’

‘I have no idea what you’re on about.’

(Louder) ‘In…hans?’

‘Melissa, just…put the bottle down’

(Louder again) ‘In…hAAAnce?’

(whispering, but loud enough to make sure the rest of the carriage knows that she knowsthat her daughter is breaking the accepted commuting rules of silence, in an attempt to get their sympathy and buy a bit more time to sort this nonsense out) ‘Melissa, these nice people are all trying to read. Put the bottle down now please, we don’t want to distu…’

(Kinda shouting) ‘In…HAAAAAAANCE’

‘Enhance! You’re saying enhance! Good. Thank God. It means, well, it means make better. OK, now put the bottle down please.’

‘What about this word? ‘CO-LOU-

I spot him before she does.

Trainers. Trousers. T-shirt. Some hair. Some stubble. Somewhere between a comic-book guy and an IT professional. Possibly both. He looks normal. Too normal. Weirdly normal.

Definitely not a guy you’d label a hero, more likely a guy you’d label Nigel. But yet here he is.

‘Here you go, watch this!”

This is unprecedented. Firstly, he’s given up his seat. Next, he’s talking. And not only has he attempted to communicate with a child on a train, but he’s handed over his phone, giving up his only protection against accidental eye contact.

Its already in her hands, already playing Frozen, and already quite loud. He’s managed to replace a noisy child with… a noisy child excitedly watching a Disney film at full volume.

‘Here, this is how you turn it up’.

Oh. It wasn’t at full volume.

The Mum is confused, the carriage is enraged, but Nigel is in his element, a man on a mission to rid the world of inquisitive children learning words.

He starts a one-man monologue. He has daughters of a similar age, so he knows how difficult it can be. He doesn’t see them as much now, mainly at weekends. He and their Mum still get on, but it didn’t work because he was too nice. Too nice! Does she get this train often?

Suddenly this isn’t monologue anymore. This is a rom-com, the crucial scene in a film that might have been ongoing for years. All we’re missing is Hugh Grant and a load of rain.

The carriage is enraptured, and Nigel expectant. But it seems the Mum is impassive.

Her copy of the Evening Standard has become her most prized possession. It’s a document she must read, that she’s been waiting all day to read, that she cannot bear the thought of not reading.

It’s a great shame as she’d love – LOVE – to have chatted to him more, but, well, she’s just in the middle of the article, and they have to get off soon. Probably.  But thanks for the phone, that’s nice of you. Not too nice I mean, just… the right amount of nice.

The carriage commuters’ communication goes into overdrive. Eyebrows are raised and heads are shaken. Some even share a smile before realising their error and kicking each other under the table in an attempt to re-establish a sense of normality.

With perfect timing, Nigel’s iPhone inheritor starts to sing ‘Let It Go’. So he takes her advice, reaching into his normal bag and pulls out an anything-but-normal bright pink, pristine Nintendo DS – and puts on his headphones.