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Posts Tagged ‘Chester’

Chester Station on a broiling summer’s day. A middle-aged man and woman in crumpled business dress make their way to the lifts, puffing their way across the concourse with all the effort of channel swimmers on the final mile. The air is so humid that it hangs, heavy, in their path; the woman bats at it with hot hands and then gives up and pushes the gluey strands of hair from her face.

The man stabs at the button for the lift.

‘Oh come on, we’ll miss our train at this rate,’ he mutters, ignoring the fact that he’s been waiting for all of five seconds.

The lift arrives. When it deposits them at the platform edge its doors judder open and the couple make for the waiting train. Inside, thankfully, the air conditioning is working at full pelt and they drop onto their seats with relief.

‘Never thought,’ says the woman as she peers into her bag for a ream of papers, ‘we’d make it.’

A few seconds later, a mother and child haul themselves onto the train. The carriage is filled with noise: the rustle of bags, the squeals of the baby, the clanking of the buggy as it bashes into a table. The mother begins a running commentary for her son, unpacking bottles, nappies, a changing mat and toys as she does so. Oblivious, he lunges for a plastic ball and begins smashing it against the table.

The man tuts audibly. It’s not unnoticed by the mother: she looks at him unapologetically and holds his gaze.

‘Ah, you’re a fabulous little boy, aren’t you, honey?’ she says to her son. Pointedly.

As the train pulls out of the station, the mother bumbles off with her boy tucked under one arm and nappies in the other. The good thing about posh trains, she thinks, is that they have baby changing facilities. Thank god, or else that stuck-up suit over there would be witness to something he really would have a right to complain about.

While she’s out of the carriage, said suit pulls a mobile from his jacket. He’s part way through a long and involved conversation when the mother returns. She tunes in and out of what he’s saying; it’s hard not to as his broad Scouse accent ricochets around the carriage.

‘Now, I’m his friend but I always say that I’m a friend outside of work and a manger inside,’ he bellows.

The line is, apparently, not good. He’s undeterred and, as his voice climbs several octaves, he turns his back on the carriage. He is clearly of the belief that if he can’t see you, you can’t hear him.

‘Yes, he’s a good worker. In some contexts. You know, it’s not his fault he’s not up to the job. We knew what he could and couldn’t do when we took him on, didn’t we?’

The woman sitting next to him glances up. He frowns at her and she returns to her spreadsheets.

‘No, I’m not saying that, what I mean is that we just don’t have the time to train him up. Do you want to spend two days a week unpaid bringing him up to speed? Because that’s what’s required.’

The baby starts squealing. To quieten him down his mother places him on the floor and lets him grab the edge of the seat to practice standing. By the time she turns her attention back to the man, the conversation has moved on.

‘I’m a hard worker. I get in at 9am and I don’t stop until 6pm, that’s how hard I work.’

You should try my bloody job, thinks the mother. I’d kill for a day so short – with the baby or without. The man laughs at something said for his ears only, then wipes one hand on a shirt that pulls around a rotund belly. The mother notices a dark, damp patch squatting in the small of his back and turns away. She’s both appalled and transfixed and wishes, half-heartedly, that she was in another carriage.

‘And holidays, I only ever take half what I’m supposed to. But that’s just what you do. Mind you, that Martin, he booked his holiday and then came and asked me if it was OK. Couldn’t really refuse, could I?’

Ah, Martin, thinks the mother. Poor Martin.

‘It’s all about being a team player. Working together. The good of the company. Take my expenses: I claim what I’m supposed to but I’m not sure everyone else does…’

There’s a pause as the person on the other end of the line interrupts him.

‘No, no, I’m not going to name names,’ he says, ‘that’s not for me to do. It’s just that I sign off on everyone’s expenses and I get to see things that no one else does. People should just remember that when they’re talking about promotions.’

Ah, so that’s what this is all about, thinks the mother. A promotion.

The train begins to slow and the on-board display blinks into life. The baby looks at it, serious for a moment, then giggles as glowing red letters spell out the words Next Stop Manchester Oxford Road. The mother throws everything into a bag and straps her son back into his buggy. As she heads off she can still hear the man; his voice seeps underneath the automatic doors dividing the carriage from the exit.

‘Martin? No, I’ve known him for years. Like I say, we socialise outside work, he’s a good man. In the pub. But business is business, and business comes first. You know what I mean?’

Outside, the sun beats down. Mother and son pass through the barriers and stand in front of the station, watching end of day workers coming and going.

‘Now that, Milo,’ says the mother to her son, ‘is what’s known as a hatchet job. No doubt you’ll be on the receiving end of one of those some day but don’t you ever turn into a slimy underhand git like that man. You hear me?’

Behind them, commuters cluster and crush around the ticket barriers. They push their little orange cards through the machines and are then released, out into downtown Manchester, like bees swirling up into the sky from their hive.

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