“You’ve about as much chance, as finding an empty seat during rush hour.” That’s what Viv from I.T. said, back when Willy first told her about the woman on Platform Two.
He hadn’t really appreciated that piece of blunt honesty; sure, he’d always known that was the case, but that didn’t mean he liked hearing it said out loud. Fortunately, Viv moved to Lewisham not long after, and so Willy could go back to enjoying his commute.
He checked his watch, and then the information board, nodding slightly. The sixteen-forty-seven train was currently on time. He shot a glance over at the opposite platform, straining his eyes to try and make out the board on the other side. That too, he assumed, was running to schedule. Chewing his lip nervously, Willy looked up and down the second platform. It wasn’t like her to be late, but if she wasn’t quick, she’d miss the train entirely.
He needn’t have worried. Hurrying down the stairs, her auburn hair bouncing and her rounded cheeks somewhat rosy, came the woman. She glanced at her watch, threw a look towards the board, and then breathed a sigh of relief. She smoothed down her raincoat, tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and then looked up and down the platform, hoping no-one had seen her so flustered.
That’s when her eyes locked with Willy’s. For a moment his heart stopped; his mouth went dry and his Adam’s apple seemed to swell. The woman gave him a smile and then waved.
Feeling the sweat began to slide down his spine, Willy waved back. Their gazes stayed locked for a moment more, before she broke it off. She pulled a mobile out of her pocket, and Willy was out of her mind completely.
He just wished she was out of his.
It had been three months since he’d first seen her. After his divorce, and his subsequent move to some tiny town miles from his workplace, Willy hadn’t thought there’d be much to excite him. The thought of an extended commute certainly hadn’t made him giddy. But a simple, rainy Tuesday had injected him with a new enthusiasm. It had been an impressively boring day, one that had left him more deflated than usual, and so seeing her for the first time had been like a punch in the gut.
He’d been staring at the tracks, watching the rain drops dance on the rails, only looking up when the thought of jumping down for a closer look became too enticing. Suddenly the thought of an early exit had been kicked aside. If his life had been a movie, albeit a very sad and boring one, that would have been the moment everything went slow-motion and the uplifting, romantic music began to play. She’d been wearing that same light-grey raincoat, her hair had been in a neat bob, and a look of mild contemplation had played on her chestnut-shaped face.
She was the most beautiful thing he’d seen in the world; his mouth had dropped open as soon as he’d seen her, and he hadn’t the strength to close it. Who knows how long he had stared at her? Standing there, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, whilst the platform around him filled with men and women ready to head home.
He didn’t really escape that daze until, as his train was lurching its way along the line, a young woman stumbled into his side.
“Sorry about that,” she murmured, straightening up.
“No worries,” Willy said, not even noticing the small smile the woman gave him.
There were no worries, not for Willy anymore. Everything paled and crumbled away now that he had seen the woman on Platform Two.
Willy continued to see her practically every day. It wasn’t that he went out of his way to find her, no. The only time he saw was just before the sixteen forty-seven train came in, he stood on his platform, and she on hers.
Sometimes she’d be waiting before he arrived, a nice surprise for him to find. But more often than not she’d come pelting down the stairs, only a handful of minutes to spare. He couldn’t help but smile whenever that happened. Seeing her, across the tracks, had quickly become the highlight of his weekdays.
Despite months of shared glances, sleepless nights spent thinking of her, he didn’t even know her name. He hadn’t had a conversation with her either. They’d spoken, once, but Willy wasn’t sure whether he should count that. It had been back in April, when the weather couldn’t decide whether it was polar or bipolar.
Getting into work had been fine. As per, the weatherman had been wrong with his morning forecast. It had been clear skies for most of the day, Willy had even enjoyed a nice summer-like breeze during his lunch break. But, as soon as the hour hand had hit two, a bulbous cloud had shuffled onto the scene, determined to catch up with its wintery schedule.
As expected, the entire rail service went into meltdown as soon as the first flake touched the tracks. When Willy got to the station, his own service had been delayed by half an hour, and it wasn’t going to get any better. The people on Platform two, however, were in a much worse situation. Their next two trains had both been cancelled, and the third was indefinitely delayed.
The one person right on cue, however, was the woman. She didn’t look harried this time, only frozen. A thick scarf obscured the lower portion of her face, and a bobble hat Willy would have bet was homemade was industriously trying to contain her hair.
Whilst Willy was stamping his feet to try and keep them from going numb, she was swearing with the profundity of a sailor at the announcement board. That was when she turned back around and climbed up the stairs. He hadn’t been paying attention to the growing crowd just a few steps away. To him they were just a group of angry commuters hoping that, if they glared for long enough, the announcement board would give them more favourable news. It wasn’t until he caught a glimpse, in the corner of his eye, of a bouncy, homemade bobble hat, that his head span round with cannon-fire speed.
The woman from the platform had joined the rabble, causing Willy’s body to suddenly feel uncomfortably warm. She turned her head, making him freeze like a criminal caught scaling the prison walls. Her smile instantly thawed him.
“So glad that rise in ticket prices is being put to good use,” she said, adding a sarcastic curve to her smile. Her voice was huskier than Willy had imagined, and the faint aroma of cigarettes washed over him, but he didn’t mind. She was finally talking to him! The greatest barrier that faced the timid, little man had been broken down. Now, all he had to do, was seize the moment!
“Yep,” he mumbled, his eyes immediately jumping away from her and towards the tracks.
No, he thought, don’t cower now! Not after spending so long practicing in the mirror. Not after you’ve worked out the perfect one-liner to impress her! He took a deep breath, rubbed his sweaty palms against his trouser legs, and then turned back to the woman.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” the guard declared, venturing out from his barricaded office, and cutting Willy off before he’d even opened his mouth. “The next train to arrive in Platform One will be redirected to London Liverpool street. Please make your way to Platform One for all stops.”
The rabble hadn’t even waited for him to finish. As one being they had turned and stampeded up the stairs, desperate not to miss the train that hadn’t even arrived yet. Ensconced amongst them, out of Willy’s reach, was the woman.
Moments later the fated train arrived, and she was gone. Willy’s train didn’t arrive for another hour and fifteen minutes.
It wasn’t much of a conversation, but Willy Faraday treasured it. He replayed it in his head countless times, all the while stealing glances at the woman on the other platform. He’d gone through a hundred different responses, all of them a hundred times better than his weak ‘yep’. He’d had her creased with laughter, he’d had her swooning in his arms, he’d even had them parting; even in his fantasies, Willy couldn’t help being the pessimist.
But that’s where the conversations stayed. Even though she was only a few feet away, even though they gave one another a smile and a wave each time they locked eyes, even though Willy had nothing to lose, he still couldn’t find the strength. It was this lack of confidence that drove his wife to leave him, well, that and the fact she was having an affair with his cousin, Philippa.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to take the chance. It’s simply that, every time he considered it, he began to feel as if a face-hugger from the Alien film was strapped to him. He’d look towards the flight of stairs and begin to feel light-headed and short of breath. If only she’d been on his platform, he told himself. Of course, that was a lie. If she had been on his platform, he’d still be standing there, shuffling his feet and fighting off the sweats.
Willy was usually a level-headed man, to the point of being boring, and so had no truck with fate or destiny. But, occasionally, on days like these, he considered putting the whole matter into someone else’s hands. He’d glance over and see her looking straight back. At that moment, with only the thought of her driving him on, he’d imagine himself simply jumping off the platform and crossing the tracks to get to her. Going up the stairs was too much of a mountain for him to cross; but going forward was much easier. And, Willy thought, it would be left in the hands of fate. If he managed to get across unharmed, then he was destined to be with her. But if he got hit, then – well, he wouldn’t have to worry about her rejecting him.
Of course, when those thoughts barrelled through his mind, he’d catch one of the guards watching him, as if they could see his thoughts tattooed across his forehead. So he’d step away from the edge, his eyes darting down. And that’s how he’d stay, keeping his eyes down until his train arrived, blocking her completely.
Today was a good day for Willy Faraday. His divorce papers had finally come through and he was, officially, a free man once more. In celebration some of his co-workers had taken him out for a drink. Although not usually a drinker, today Willy decided to suffer having a pint or two being bought for him.
And now, much later than usual, and with an extra totter to his step, he arrived on the platform. He glanced up at the information board with a dazed smile, his fuzzy brain only slightly making out the yellow letters. After staring for several minutes, Willy finally worked out that he had only about six minutes before his train arrived.
Swaying as he went, Willy worked his way towards a bench. Maybe, thought, he might be able to close his eyes for a couple of minutes. And then, he continued to think, the dizziness might stop. It took him a couple of attempts, the pesky thing kept moving, but eventually he grabbed hold of the bench. Ignoring the splinter biting into his palm, Willy lowered himself down, desperately hoping the world would stop spinning.
He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. He was beginning to feel it now, the world slowly balancing itself out. What had even been in that drink? He knew Zach had put something in it, he’d made no act of hiding it. Neither had Val, or Frank. In fact, his drink had made a circuit of the entire table before it had finally been handed over to Willy. No wonder it had taken three of them to stop Willy from climbing onto the table when his favourite Meatloaf song started playing.
Willy smiled to himself, slowly opening eyelids as heavy as bricks. He hadn’t had that much fun in a long time. A belch suddenly escaped his lips, one that foretold of a painful evening ahead for the drunken man. He glanced around, bashfully, hoping there were no witnesses. That’s when he saw her.
She was standing on the opposite platform, just the same as every other day. No, not quite the same, he thought, taking another study of the woman. She was done up far too nicely to have come from work. Her hair was freshly styled in curly ringlets that dangled either side of her face which, Willy was sure, had been given an extra glow by the alcohol.
She wore a blue, flower-speckled dress that stopped just below her knees. Her arms were behind her back, but from the angle he sat, Willy could see she held a clutch handbag. Her eyes were drifting up and down the platform, a small smile decorating her cherry-red lips.
A sudden spark bloomed in Willy’s heart. This was his chance. A feeling welled inside his heart to which he had been a stranger for decades: confidence. Willy pushed himself to his feet, fighting the urge to vomit, and then turned towards the stairs.
Now that he thought about it, what had he been so scared about? Sure, up until now he had been crippled by an overwhelming surety that he’d be rejected. But tonight, Willy was beginning to think differently.
In fact, he was beginning to think differently about a lot of things. The promotion at work, for instance. For months he’d been telling himself that he shouldn’t go for it, that he wasn’t qualified. Of course he was qualified! How long had he been working there now? He was a better pick than Steve, anyway!
He was also sure that he didn’t like being called Willy. Who cares if there are four other Williams in the office? It’s his name, just as much as it is theirs!
But, more than any of that, William Faraday was adamant that, when he made it to Platform two and finally admitted his feelings, she’d declare that she felt the same way. Just the thought of seeing her smile as he approached was more than enough to put the fire back in his legs. Still swaying, and only just managing to keep his lunch in its proper place, he staggered towards the stairs. He had just reached the handrail, when the sound of her voice made him pause.
“You took your time!” she hollered, the smokiness of her voice sending a spark down Willy’s spine. But when he turned around, that spark turned into the coldness of sudden sobriety.
Lightly jogging down the corridor, a playful, smug grin on his face, was a man barely in his thirties. He had shoulder-length, ash-brown hair, a chin you could have broken bricks on, and the undivided attention of the woman on Platform Two.
“Traffic was awful,” the man purred, before planting a kiss on her cheek.
The woman said something in response, but Willy didn’t hear it. His head was filled with the pounding of his heart as he saw the look of adoration on her face. He’d never had a chance. To her, he was nothing more than another face in the crowd, seen and forgotten in the same glance.
He couldn’t say how long he sat there, watching as his head filled with the sounds of thunder. Eventually they were gone, blocked out by Willy’s train. Still in a daze, the sounds of their laughter ringing up and down the platform, he approached the train doors.
He must have been sitting stunned for some time, for the doors snapped shut just as he stepped onboard.
With his knees shaking, Willy stepped away from the door and collapsed into a seat. The window taunted him, urging him to take another look at the embracing pair. Instead, he sank back, urging the fabric of the seat to devour him. Finally, Willy awakened to the reality that more than just the tracks separated himself and the woman of his dreams, that woman of platform two.