Beside Him

The train rushes on and the compartments sway in rhythm.

He sits still and talks. On his shoulder rests the head of the man beside him. This second man appears to be sleeping.

'It isn't how I intended it to happen.'

Whether the second man is wise to his speech, the first seems not to care. He continues his monologue unrestrained.

'Really, it's not. I wanted answers, but I also wanted to get on the train. Don't you think it's funny the way the two just coincided? I certainly do – because how else would I have gotten to talk to you? That's another piece of the puzzle that fell right into place. And I'm very happy it did.'

Save for the two gentlemen, their compartment is empty. A woman was seated here previously but she has vacated her chair. She did not say why she was leaving, yet her face was wearing an expression of mild discomfort. Neither man had paid her any attention.

'And of course I got you the coffee. Good of me, wasn't it? Charitable, you might say. It's a special coffee and I got it for you because of the – business – which I felt needed to be discussed. And you haven't finished it.' He glances at the polystyrene cup.

On goes the train. The sun runs to keep up with the window.

'Seeing as I bought you that coffee, I'm a little displeased that you haven't finished it. I consider that rude. But perhaps that's just a trait I inherited from my mother.'

He laughs and the sound makes the compartment feel emptier.

'Coffee and my mother! What on earth am I doing, broaching trivialities? Forgive me, I often distract myself. The present matter is that of you and me. This is what I must focus on.'

He reaches into his jacket pocket and retrieves a butter knife that he was hiding in there. A wink of sunlight glances off the blade and sends a stripe up the face of the second man. He offers no response to it. The first man resumes speaking.

'We reached a dead end, didn't we? I regret that that happened, I sincerely do. If you wonder why I am in possession of a knife, by the way, it is to demonstrate that I may possess a knife. It also suggests I would not be afraid to use it if I had to. As it turns out, had I set myself on using the knife, it would have been a very foolish course of action to take. So instead I gave you that coffee as a gesture of my… intentions.'

The train is slowing down. The man stands, stowing the knife again as he makes his way to the compartment door. In the corridor he meets the woman who left earlier on.

She says, 'How's your friend? He looked ill.'

'He's at peace,' replies the man.

As the train pulls into the station, the woman re-enters the compartment. The sleeping man has slumped right over into the adjacent seat. She hurries to him and scrutinises him closely. She notes how pale he is. She notes how immovable he is.

She notes how dead he is.

Later, police arrive to investigate. An officer sniffs the half-consumed coffee and decides that the smell is strange.

The first man has long since vanished.