This is a short tale loosely based on an evening out I once had, with some exaggeration here and there for the drama and the lols.
For this story, the approximate word count is 1000 words, with a reading time of 3-5 minutes.
G B Ralph, January 2020
This is an account of pain and heartache, of torment and tragedy, of poor decisions and chicken nuggets.
We’d caught up with friends in Covent Garden for Japanese-inspired food. Recently opened, the poorly lit restaurant was the current darling of foodies and the ‘where to eat this weekend’ bloggers. Reservations were booked out weeks in advance and I had to admit – the food looked and tasted fantastic. But it was wildly overpriced, and I’d left still hungry.
Dinner was with old friends, the kind you see once a year, maybe twice if you’re feeling motivated. It’s always good to see them, but meeting up can be such a chore. On a Wednesday night, all you want to do is go home, shed your work clothes and blob on the couch in your shorts.
Now we were on our way to do just that. We’d arrived a few minutes early to find our train – the 23:12 Dartford service from London’s Charing Cross – just pulling in to complete its inward journey.
Screeching to a halt, the carriages settled with a hiss, doors beeping before sliding apart. An empty can of gin and tonic burst from within and skittered across the platform. A loud group then emerged from the train, delighting in their friend’s difficulty negotiating the step down. With that challenge conquered, the haphazard bunch tottered towards the ticket gates, ready for a big night out.
We climbed aboard into an empty carriage. My partner and I revelled in taking our pick of the seats. Always take the seat when the opportunity arises, even if home is only a few stops away. The trip’s brevity was something else for which I was grateful. After dinner we’d stopped at the pub for a quick pint which had turned into three rounds – or was it four? Whatever it was, before leaving for our respective stations I’d gone to the loo. But I was already feeling the uncomfortable press of that final pint. No matter, as I say, we’d be home soon – twenty minutes tops.
Perched on our moquette thrones and basking in our good fortune, we watched the driver make her way from the cab at the front of the train – now the back – and walk the length of the platform to the back of the train – now the front.
The remaining seats were soon taken up and the final few passengers stood in the doorway, holding the railings as we got underway. Overlapping conversations filled the carriage. The pleasant chatter of people travelling with friends, family, or loved ones after an evening out – so unlike the customary silence of strangers on my commute.
We soon pulled into Waterloo East, then London Bridge, a few more passengers stepping on board at each stop. By now my bladder was becoming quite insistent. I had to remind myself not to worry, we would be home soon.
The doors started to close, and that was when our otherwise ordinary evening took a turn.
A drunken shout cut across the chat – our attention drawn to the platform. We saw a businessman rushing from the top of the stairs – eyes wild, coat flapping, takeaway McDonald’s in hand.
So often a dash for the train rewards you with the satisfaction of knowing you made it, that you wasted not even a second kicking your heels on the platform.
This was not one such situation.
The latecomer made an ill-judged leap for the closing doors. Unfortunately, only his hand made it inside – the hand which had held the takeaways in its grasp.
The brown paper bag soared past the standing passengers, crossing the carriage, slamming into the far side and plummeting to the floor. The takeaways’ owner met a similar fate, sliding down the outside of the carriage, face pressed against the glass of the closed doors. His hand slipped from between the rubber seals as he crumpled into a pile on the platform.
The whole incident made a mockery of the ever-present yellow-painted warnings to mind the gap.
Conversation had ceased, replaced with gasps and squeals of shock. Some on the platform moved to assist the unfortunate man. Meanwhile, inside the train one passenger whaled uselessly on the door-release button. Others could only stare. Then one self-assured passenger stepped forwards to pull the emergency brake. With the brake activated, I knew the train guard would be required to investigate. Everyone was too shocked by the situation to even groan about the inevitable delay.
All eyes were on the hapless, hopeful passenger as he was helped back to vertical on the platform. I’d recovered from the initial fright – all appeared to be in hand – and my mind had returned to my bladder. It was agonising minutes before the guard arrived and had cleared the situation to his satisfaction. The pressure really was building now.
All the while, our prospective fellow passenger stood swaying on the platform. His eyes were glazed with apparent vacancy, but when I followed his line of sight, I realised his drunken intent. Looking through the door’s glass panel, he was fixated on the McDonald’s. The brown paper bag was tipped on its side, with an unopened six-piece box of Chicken McNuggets peeking out the top. I understood his craving, because I felt it too. After an unfulfilling dinner and many pints of lager, I knew a few mouthfuls of steamy, dreamy golden nugs would—
The doors clunked, breaking my trance. Our train guard had manually released the doors – allowing them to open – and reset the emergency brake. The homeward bound businessman clambered aboard and the previously gawking passengers shuffled to give him space.
Everything shifted into slow motion as one particular passenger stepped back. There was nothing special or unusual about him: mid-thirties, average build, shirt and chinos. But it was his movement that caught my eye.
The owner of the takeaways and myself watched on in impotent horror. We gasped in unison as the weight of one careless boot was applied to the box of nuggets.
The cardboard compressed.
Helpless, we watched the tragedy unfold. Six perfect chicken morsels being trodden into pancakes of deep-fried despair.
The anguish on the drunken man’s face. It was too much to bear, like life wasn’t worth living anymore. And in that moment of misery, my bladder gave up holding out for even a second longer.
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