She gets on the northbound High Barnet train at Euston. Tall, tanned and lithe, she’s the kind of girl you look up from your newspaper at. Her green dress is beautiful; a simple summer shift with a pretty floral pattern. She sits down a couple of seats away. I go back to half-reading the paper; Syria’s chemical arms; Colorado kidnapper hanged in cell; GQ awards; half-counting down the stations until I can get off.
The next station is Mornington Crescent. I know exactly where I’m going but I’m re-tracing old steps, checking off each stop as a matter of course. I’ve done this journey almost every day for the past five years, except for the last few weeks. Now, on my way back to the old flat, I feel like someone else. The next station is Camden Town.
The midriff is in. Daisy Lowe, Rita Ora, Jessie J – they’re all doing it. I look down at my own soft tummy and add ‘Get fit enough to bare midriff a la Daisy Lowe’ to my imaginary ‘things to do now I’m single’ list. I wonder if the girl in the green dress has heard my internal monologue as she’s now looking over my shoulder at the crop top feature. The next station is Kentish Town. She’s probably planning her own midriff-baring outfit. She doesn’t need to get fit.
The woman sat opposite me is wearing a fluorescent yellow top that looks garish under the lights of the tube. Her friend has long fake acrylic nails that remind me of the plastic witch fingers I would always insist on wearing for Halloween. They chat about their day ahead, their northern accents audible over the noise of the train. The next station is Tufnell Park.
The girl in the green dress gets up. Backpack slung over her shoulder and paperback in hand she hops off the train, her green dress fluttering in the underground gust of air. I wonder briefly where she’s headed before my attention turns back to the women opposite. The next station is Archway.
As we leave the station I start to think about the next part of my journey. The thought of the old flat brings up unwanted tears. I breathe them away. Highgate East Finchley and Finchley Central come and go along with my Northern travelling companions. Finally, I get to the last little bit of the journey. The next station is West Finchley. As I step off the train all I can think of is the moment I first arrived at this suburban spot of North London. The sun was shining then too.
After leaving the flat I can’t even get to the end of the road without the tears coming up. When they do I don’t even try and wipe them away. They don’t even sting. I let them wash the makeup off my face and as I walk to the station the warm sun dries my cheeks. When I get on the train I sit in the end seat and rest my head against the glass. I wish I could fast forward the next 20 minutes.
As the doors open at Tufnell Park I look up and see her. It’s the girl in the green dress. As she walks past to an empty seat on the other side of the carriage she looks over for a second and I wonder if she recognizes me. What a coincidence. I’m used to seeing the same commuters on the same train of a morning, but seeing the same girl in the middle of the day on two random trains seems uncanny.
Suddenly I’m sobbing again. I don’t even know what I’m crying for. I try and wipe the tears away as soon as they spill out so that no one feels obliged to say anything. I can see the girl in the green dress looking over at me. I try to avoid eye contact. The tears are now running down my neck and one drops off my chin onto my chiffon top making a midnight blue spot. I see her once again glancing over at me from behind a page of her book. It’s funny though; I can see she’s genuinely concerned, not just gawping at my sadness.
As we leave Camden Town the girl in the green dress puts her book away and starts looking for something in her backpack. Through flickering glances I can see her hands doing something under the cover of her bag. I’m not quite sure what, but I know at this moment, and it’s so clear to me, that she’s going to give me something. Her face is so serene, so open and honest.
The train pulls into Euston and she gets up, pausing for just a second in front of me. She holds out her hand and in it is a small square of folded paper. She looks at me with eyes that say, “Take it”. I reach out, take the paper from her fingers and unfold it slowly. On this torn square of thick notebook paper she’s scribbled a heart surrounded by a cloud in blue biro. It’s so childlike, done in the spur of the moment, yet so thoughtful. I can’t help but smile. Before I can look up and thank her, she’s gone.
I look around expecting others to be watching, also amazed at this random act of kindness. But it seems that in those few seconds London is back to its usual aloof, uninterested best, and the other faces on the tube carriage are oblivious. I wonder whether to dash out in pursuit of the girl in the green dress to thank her, but quickly decide against it. To acknowledge it would spoil the sweet and kind simplicity of the gesture.
Coming up from underground I walk out of the station into the bright September sunshine. I take the paper heart token out of the zipped pocket of my bag and hold it out in front of me just to check I haven’t imagined it. Looking down at it I think of her kind face, and all I can see on this little square is the light reflecting back from the sun.