samuel_best

The Guessing Game by Samuel Best

It is winter, and the sharp air reddens my face as I walk to the railway station. My cheeks blush as the blood circles around inside my body. My nose runs and I wipe my face against the soft sleeve of my cardigan. My hands are in a cheap pair of black gloves. As I walk, I pick at a loose thread of cotton on the cuff of my left glove and I can feel the cold worm its way through the poor cotton weave and begin to nip nip nip at my skin. I breathe into my cupped hands and this warms me for a moment until the cold wriggles back in.

When I get to the station I sit down on the cold stone wall and wait for my train. I blow the air out from my lungs and watch as a cloud comes out from my mouth. It swims around and then drifts off to join the cigarette smoke from the man next to me. He glances my way and then returns to his habit. Once more I create a cloud, and then begin to rub my gloved hands together.

Looking around, I see tired faces. People who didn’t have time for their morning coffee yawn and stretch. I catch a yawn from a well-dressed woman and cover my mouth with my hand. I play a game to pass the time until my train arrives. It’s called ‘Guess How Old Each Waiting Person Is’. Cigarette Man looks around 40, so I guess he’s actually about 35. Well-dressed Woman looks like she’s almost 50, but she’s one of those women you can tell was beautiful when she was younger. It hasn’t completely left her face yet. The man standing behind her looks like he could snap in the wind. He is frail, and looks as old as the Earth.

I notice a girl standing at the other end of the platform. She is slim and of average height. She kicks a stone off the platform and onto the rail track. I watch her scuff scuff scuff her leather boots along the dirty ground for a moment. She has a plain baby-face, but I reckon she is about 18. I remember going to school for the first time and being scared of people older than me. The big boys doing their exams. Now it’s my turn to do my exams. I’m doing my Standard Grades this year, but I don’t feel like a big boy yet. I wonder if the girl is a student at University. She has a folder, and I wonder what is inside. Books? Paintings? Top-secret documents? Maybe she is a spy. She doesn’t look like a spy, but then again the best spies never do.

She reaches for the inside pocket of her jacket. It is a nice jacket. Long and dark. It looks cosy. I hope she is warm. She isn’t wearing gloves though, and I think her hands must be chilly. As she feels inside her jacket I wonder what she is looking for. Maybe a walkie-talkie to get in touch with HQ? Maybe a pistol. I wonder who she is going to shoot.

She pulls out a train ticket. She must be a very good spy. Good spies don’t blow their cover by pulling guns and walkie-talkies out in broad daylight. I hope she is going to the same place as me. A train pulls in, slowly and noisily. I cover my ears from the noise. This is not my train. This train is going to Dunblane and I am not.

Cigarette Man quickly stubs his habit out on the wall and boards the train. Well-dressed Woman checks the timetable and relaxes. This is not her train either. She sees me looking at me and has an odd expression on her face that I don't understand. I keep looking at her and she tells me to 'F off', which is rude. The Man as Old as the Earth does not move. Maybe he has died. I wonder if you can die standing up.

I keep looking round and see that the spy girl is getting on the Dunblane train. Maybe she has an exhibition for her paintings, or maybe she’s going to kill a rival spy. I feel as dead as the Earth-Old Man.

*

It is still winter, and the air is getting colder every day. It is colder than it was yesterday, and I am wearing a different scarf because this scarf is thicker. I pick at a loose thread on the cuff of my left glove as I walk to the station. The air is trying really hard to get at my hands today, squeezing through the gaps in my gloves. This makes them sore. Or numb. Or both. I wiggle my fingers but they don’t move very much. I count them to make sure they’re all still there. One two three four five twice. They are all still there.

I use some of my sore numb fingers to get my train ticket out of my pocket. Today I almost bought a ticket to Dunblane, but decided not to. As I look at the little ticket I am holding in my 10 fingers – 8 fingers and 2 thumbs – I sit down on the cold stone wall and wait for my train. I look around the station, and recognise some of the people.

Cigarette Man is here, puffing on his cigarette and coughing every now and again. I wonder if it’s the smoke or the cold that is making him cough. I bet it’s the smoke. It’s bad for your insides. Worse than the cold, anyway. Well-dressed Woman is looking very well-dressed. I think she will get a promotion because she looks like a good businesswoman. I wonder if she is very rich. I bet she is very rich. The Man as Old as the Earth is not here this morning. He probably died yesterday. You can die standing up, I decide.

A girl walks past me, carrying a folder. It is the spy girl with the leather boots and no gloves and the plain baby-face. She looks nice and warm today. She goes and stands at the other end of the platform and looks around like I am doing. I wonder what she is thinking. She’s probably looking for other spies. I pretend to be a spy and talk into my watch. My watch is my walkie-talkie. HQ tells me my mission and I say “over and out”. Cigarette Man gives me a funny look. I would shoot him but then everyone would know I am a spy.

A train pulls up at the platform and I cover my ears with my sore numb hands. I look at the spy girl with the leather boots and no gloves and the plain baby-face, and she picks up her folder. She is getting on this train and this is the train I want to get on too. My heart beats like a bass drum in my body.

Boom boom.

I stand up.

Boom boom.

I get on the train and she does too.

She is holding on to her folder tightly and I wonder if she regrets not wearing gloves. I don’t like holding things in the cold with no gloves on.

On the train there are no seats. I lean against the wall and hold onto the hand rail as the train pulls away. The pretty girl who probably regrets not wearing gloves stands next to me and I can feel the drummer in my chest hit harder.

BOOM BOOM.

I take off my gloves because the cold air didn’t get on the train with me. The girl and I look around the carriage and I wonder what she is thinking about these people. I wonder if we have the same thoughts and I think we might.

The train bumps violently and the girl reaches back to steady herself. She is reaching for the rail but instead her hand touches mine. I don’t usually like people touching me because I get scared they’re going to hurt me or take me away somewhere bad. Sometimes I get so scared I start to panic and cry or scream. I don’t do that this time though because this time I think I want her to touch my hand. Her skin is very warm and soft. I thought it would be cold because she doesn’t wear gloves but it’s not. She turns and looks at me and smiles. She has wonderful teeth. The enamel is white and her teeth are a good size. Not too big, not too small. I think she has the best smile I have ever seen and I show her mine. I hope she likes mine too. She keeps smiling and I guess this means she does. I think we are falling in love like in books.

We stand falling and smiling for a million years and eventually I decide to say words to her. She beats me to it.

“Let’s play a game,” she says with a kind voice.

“What game?” I ask quickly.

She points across the carriage and I see a big man talking very loudly on his mobile telephone. He is telling someone off because they have been bad.

“Guess how old that man is.”