Everything is exactly as it should be.
People in seats, looking smug, avoiding eye contact with new arrivals who are old, pregnant, or have a crutch. Others in the aisle, thrusting groins and armpits into the faces of those seated, exacting some kind of revenge for their premium travelling position. And people cramming on, shouting to others to move down, who in turn are incandescent at the suggestion that more people could fit on, despite themselves shouting only moments before. Strange how quickly opinions change.
Then there’s Naomi. Curled up in the corner seat, eyes heavy from another long day at work and long drinks after work. Drifting, dreaming, and in real danger of missing her stop. People have noticed, people are watching. It’s a serious spectator sport, the tension rising as the train pulls in to every platform. She opens her eyes, sees the sign, and closes them again. Not this one. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Suddenly her eyes meet with the familiar inscription. Her fellow travellers have seen this moment coming, and don’t make it easy. They know this story demands tension, needs excitement, requires a human-shaped obstacle course for her to get through. But this isn’t her first rodeo. She’s up and diving through the crowd, leaping out onto the platform before the announcer asks us all to please mind the doors. She’s overcome all the odds.
Except she’s left her phone.
She’s. Left. Her. Phone.
Her precious phone.
Holly Headphones is the first to spot it, proving that she is, in fact, always paying attention, despite what her demeanour would have you believe. Within seconds it’s in her hand. She waves the phone and shouts an unhelpful ‘excuse me!’ to a hundred travellers on the platform, but it’s like she’s suddenly invisible to them, her voice lost in the crowd.
Launching phase two, she thrusts it into the hands of one of her companions, Peter Pinstripe, who has an ideal vantage point by the door to rise above the army of commuters. But there’s just too many people trying to force their way on and into this developing scene, pushing him back into the carriage. He shall not pass.
The group have failed. The phone is on the carriage, the owner on the platform, unaware until the time comes to tap out of this underground tunnel.
And now the real drama begins.
As quickly as they united, this clan of commuters disbands.
Peter sighs, raises his eyebrows, and tries to hand it back to Holly. But with impressive and impassive disdain for their previous teamwork, she stares through him, pretending not to notice the shiny iPhone X being waved in her face.
But she can’t ignore the tapping on her shoulder.
FINE. She looks.
‘Nearly got it to her!’
‘The phone, we nearly got it to her.
‘Here you go. Keep it with you, keep it safe.’
‘Sorry I don’t understand.’
‘The phone, you need to take it’
‘Yeah, I don’t speak… English. What are you saying?’
Peter’s ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’ course hasn’t given him a protocol for how to respond to such blatant deceit, so he places the phone on the seat between them. A broken family, with custody waiting to be agreed.
He tries again to pass it to Holly. She nods towards the old couple opposite, who aren’t keen to get involved in this council of confusion. They refuse and look towards Holly again. She stares through them, presumably listening to her Duolingo App. This game of don’t-pass-the-parcel continues for a while, as the train hurtles towards the next stop, by which time someone needs to be in charge.
None of them want the power, none want the responsibility. They all just want to get back to the Shires.
‘I’ll take it’.
The group look up, as one.
‘I’ll take it. I’m passing through Mordon tomorrow, right by the Lost Property.’
Suddenly the group aren’t so keen to hand it over.
The answer to their prayers has arrived. But he looks exactly like a man who might like to steal a phone. Or at least a man who isn’t part of their recently formed fellowship.
‘It’s no bother, really’
‘Give it here, honestly, it’s no bother…’
Holly understands every word. Peter clutches the precious phone tightly. The old couple think he looks like their nephew and decide to tell him so.
The train arrives at the final station, but everyone stays seated, caught in a social etiquette nightmare. One phone that rules them all, one phone that found them, one phone that needs taking home, and in the tunnel darkness binds them.
They stare at each other. They stare at him. They stare at the phone. The doors open. It’s decision time.
What would you do?