8 minute read
The platform was empty when Khaz trudged up the ramp. He ignored the ticket machine. His pale skin had proven itself impervious to sweat and he didn’t seem to notice the ferocious midday heat that had most people complaining. Everything about Khaz was black; hair, jeans, long sleeves. As far as he was concerned, even his soul was black. His long, wiry body moved with the leisurely trudge of an ancient tortoise towards the edge of the concrete, where the ground dropped and the tracks began. A faintly painted yellow line urged him to cross. He could hear the bouncing carriages approaching and as the sound became louder every inch of him screamed.
He ignored all natural urges and forced his body to stay put. The first thing he felt was wind. The familiarity of the huge blast of air rushing past his face sobered him. He forced his eyes to stay open until they watered as the flurry of metal and confused, fractured faces roared past. The sound was deafening, but all he could hear was his heartbeat. When it was over he brought his palm up to his heart. It vibrated against the drumming in his chest.He slipped his hand into his pocket and brought a lighter and a half smoked cigarette to his lips.
Khaz was the kind of guy you’d tell your children to avoid. His lips were surrounded by so many piercings you could take a ribbon and thread his mouth shut. One had to look very closely at his sunken eyes to see if they had any colour at all. On examination you’d be surprised to find them a deep, piercing blue.
My beautiful boy – Your eyes are just like your father’s
He heard footsteps behind him and tipped his head to the right, dragging heavily on his cigarette and peeking through his long fringe.
It was a woman in her late twenties. She wore a floral dress and carried a plastic animal carrier. Khaz stared at her, flipping his fringe out of his view. She shuffled awkwardly, trying to avoid eye contact. The cat in the cage began to meow.
The cat’s cries seemed to make the woman even more nervous. He frowned at her. He wanted to let her know that it was okay; that the cat didn’t really bother him. A smile would have sufficed, but Khaz wasn’t confident that his face could express anything that another person would understand. He brushed his hair off his face again.
If you don’t stop flipping that ridiculous hair I’ll shave it off while you’re asleep
The cat’s yowling became more and more strained and each scream came faster and until the woman’s face was red and she was wiping her palms on her dress. Khaz looked back at her just as she bent to open the cage.
It was too late. As she pulled the young tabby from the cage, attempting to soothe it as she held it in her arms, the kitten began to scratch and thrash wildly. She cried out in alarm, releasing her grip. The cat scampered out of her arms and disappeared underneath a vending machine.
“Shit,” muttered the woman, getting down on all fours and peering beneath the machine.
Khaz abandoned his cigarette and rushed over, crouching down beside her. She gave him a strange look and shifted a few inches to the left so she wasn’t so close.
“Sorry,” he said.
“S’okay,” the woman replied looking back towards the space under the vending machine, “here puss.” She made a clicking sound with her tongue. The kitten remained hidden.
“If I lift it will you get her?” Khaz asked.
“What?” She seemed surprised he was still there.
“The machine, if I move it?”
“Oh. Okay, sure.” She took a step back and moved the cage closer to her. “Thanks.”
Khaz stood and wrapped his arms around the vending machine.
You’re weak and pathetic. No son of mine
Khaz braced and heaved the weighty machine with everything he had. It tilted slightly and he was able to hold it at an angle. He watched as the tabby scrambled out of its hiding place, wailing as it raced across the platform. The woman lunged towards it, catching it by the leg, releasing it then catching it again, more firmly this time. She clutched it in both arms and bundled it hurriedly into the cage, slamming the door shut and closing the latch. She sat panting on the concrete platform. Khaz attempted to ease the vending machine down slowly, but it landed heavily on the ground. The woman stared at him.
“Thanks,” she repeated. The cat began to howl again. Khaz shrugged his shoulders in response and moved back to the edge of the platform. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some worn headphones, their copper wires exposed. He placed them in his ears and flicked his hair out of the way. He turned the music up to the highest volume, drowning his thoughts in screaming voices, frantic drums and screeching guitar riffs.
Khaz stood on the platform, staring at the ground. He felt the music in his ears reaching to every corner of his mind, working at the kinks and ironing out the stress. In his favorite parts, his chest swelled with a feeling he still wasn’t totally familiar with. He lost track of everything. Forgetting where he was, who he was, what he was. A three toned chime interrupted his trance. A woman’s voice made an announcement but Khaz wasn’t listening to her.
Get out of my way you fucking freak
A heavy, metal giant lumbered up to the platform, wheels ringing with the sound of brakes in need of oil. Khaz tugged the door open, making a point of being far away from the lady and her cat. He stepped inside a mostly empty carriage and took a seat with his back against the direction of movement. There was a low whirr and the carriage jerked forward, then smoothed to a steady pace, rocking gently from side to side. With each click the wheels jumped a small gap in the rails, the noise echoing carriage after carriage. Outside, Khaz watched the scenes as they blurred past, distorted by the stains of a million grimy fingers.
Khaz was rearranging his feet on the seat opposite when he heard a raised voice. At first he dismissed it as a part of the track he had pounding through his ear buds, strange that he had never noticed this part of the song before. But when he looked up he could see that it was not just a part of the song. A few seats in front sat a family of three; mother, father, son. Khaz paused his music and watched, listening.
The boy was young, no more than eight. He had dark hair, cropped short. He seemed restless, bobbing up and down and fidgeting. “I want to go on all the rides,” he announced.
“You think we have that kind of money?” his father’s reply was harsh, “You spend all our money on stupid little rides and we won’t be able to feed you. You’re lucky we’re even going with your behavior lately.”
“Hey, Alex, look! We’re on TV.” the mother spoke now, interrupting her husband to point out the window at a CCTV monitor. The boy jumped up and pressed his face to the window, breathing hot air all over the glass.
“Would you sit still when I’m speaking to you?” The man grabbed his son’s elbow roughly, forcing him to the chair. The boy folded his arms across his stomach.
“Simon said he’s allowed to go on the rides.”
“Simon is an idiot. His parents are fucking hippi…”
“Look at this, Alex!” the mother pointed out the window again.
“Wow!” cried the boy, rushing to Khaz’s side of the carriage to throw himself against the window once again. If Khaz had followed the child’s gaze he would have seen the car stopped at the lights, waiting its turn to cross the tracks.
The car was long and low. It wasn’t blue or green; maybe somewhere in the middle, and it was old; very old, but it had been well looked after. Polished and buffed and washed. Even the tyres looked pristine; as if this was the first time it had ever been driven. Inside were smooth, tan coloured seats. The driver could have been older than the car, with his white beard and sandpaper skin, but Khaz didn’t see any of this. His eyes were fixated on the young couple; every muscle in his body was tight and strained with a shaking anger.
The man’s face was rough with dark stubble. He breathed heavily through gritted teeth.
“Don’t you interrupt me again,” his voice was low and terrifying.
Khaz stared at the man’s hand on his wife’s thigh, just below the hem of her shorts. White marks had appeared in her skin beneath his fingers. She smiled at him and looked around nervously.
“You’re hurting me,” she said, it was almost a whisper. She put her hand over his, but he didn’t move.
Go to your room, Baby. Daddy and I need to talk. Nothing to worry about. Just adult things.
Before Khaz knew what he was doing he was on his feet and up the aisle. He got to the six-seat where the man and woman sat. He stood holding a chair and swaying with the motion of the carriage.
“You right mate?” the man spoke, abruptly. Khaz realised the question was aimed at him. He looked up, and relief pulsed through him as he saw the man’s grip loosen on his wife’s leg. Pale blue bruises had begun to form.
“Yeah,” he coughed, “I think it’s my stop coming up soon.” The man stared suspiciously at him.
“Alex, come and sit back down,” the boy’s mother called, gently.
Alex crossed back to his parent’s side of the carriage looking up at Khaz as he walked. Khaz looked into the boys eyes and found they were even bluer than his own.
Khaz moved slowly towards the door of the carriage, unsure of what to do next. The train ambled on for a while longer; Khaz stared out the window as he headed further from civilization. He brushed his hair from his vision as greys became greens and buildings became trees. Alarm bells sounded and the train began to slow.
Khaz stepped off the train into an unfamiliar place. Disorientated, he followed a swarm of people down a path that led under the tracks. He walked slowly, busy people bustled past. A familiar voice broke his thoughts.
“Hurry up, Alex.”
Khaz’s heart skipped a beat. He walked even slower, not daring to turn his head. A moment later the family from the train bustled past him. The father glowered at him on his way past and Khaz ducked his head, pretending not to notice. His legs seemed to make the decision for him, and with nothing else to do while he waited for another train, Khaz found himself following the family. He was careful to leave just enough distance between, so he wasn’t noticed and so he didn’t lose which direction they had gone in. He kept light on his toes, prepared to duck behind a tree if someone turned.
Khaz had followed the couple and their son for ten minutes before they disappeared up a driveway. Khaz ran now, stopping just short of the house and taking cover behind the corner of the neighbor’s fence. He watched the house.
It was number thirty-five; the numbers were nailed in brass to the door. The outer walls were a pale yellow, the roof dark brick. The garden was high and overgrown while the grass was dirt bare. There were no flowers. A concrete path led from the pavement to the door, weeds sprouted through the cracks.
Khaz pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Resting his back against the fence, Khaz closed his eyes and breathed in. He filled his mouth, enveloped his lungs and exhaled slowly. He felt himself relax. He leant further into the fence, which cradled him softly. He kept inhaling toxic clouds until the smoke was so hot on his throat that he spluttered dangerously. He dropped the now tiny burning stick to the ground and watched as it fizzled to nothing.
What the fuck are you doing with your life?
With no other ideas Khaz pushed himself from the fence and turned to make his way back toward the station. He heard yelling followed by the sharp smack of skin contacting skin. In three great strides Khaz was at the door, fist poised to knock.
“He’s six years old, Jim!”
“He’s old enough to know better.” The man’s voice was so loud Khaz could have sworn he was standing right up against the other side of the door.
“Go to your room, Alex.” There was a pause. “I wish you wouldn’t take it out on him.” Another smack. A whimper.
“If you keep interfering with me and my son you’ll wish you hadn’t.”
Khaz thumped loudly on the door, three times, four, five, drowning out the yelling, but it was in his head too.
You’re just like your cunt of a mother, sniveling in a corner
“What the fuck do you want?” the man flung the door wide open and stood, filling the doorway, his shoulders rising and falling heavily, fuming with rage. Recognition crossed his face when he saw Khaz standing there.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Khaz swallowed loudly. He had no idea. He flicked his eyes upwards, desperate for an answer. His eye lashes caught in his fringe.
“You follow us home you fucken creep?” as he spoke, the man grabbed hold of the collar of Khaz’s shirt. Their faces were uncomfortably close. Tiny drops of spit landed on Khaz’s cheek.
Khaz shook his head and mumbled an indecipherable answer. Before he knew what was happening, Khaz was pressed up against the door frame, the man’s forearm hard against his throat.
“You better fucking speak up, freak.”
Khaz’s head went fuzzy. He heard the man’s muffled yelling and saw the grotesque anger in his face, but his body was rigid with a desperate need to remove the weight from his air supply. He clawed frantically at the arm, scratching and pulling. He felt his eyes fluttering closed and his body seemed too heavy to hold up any longer.
You’re as good as dead to me, useless little prick.
Khaz raised his knee hard into the man’s groin then shoved him hard in the chest with both hands. The man released his grip in pain and surprise falling backward into the opposite side of the door frame. There was an unhealthy crack as his skull made contact with a sharp corner and the man slumped to the ground. Khaz took a step back and saw blood seeping out of the back
He stood, dumbstruck, heart thumping in his chest, then took two stumbling backward steps, turned, and ran so fast that the blood rushing to his ears drowned out the sound of his footsteps. He ran in the direction of the station, shaking his head from side to side trying to remove the cracking sound and the image of blood. He hurtled up the street and turned left, then right, then right again, under the tracks, down the path, onto the platform. He lunged to the littered ground and sat, leaning against a wall, chest heaving with effort. His fringe covered his eyes and he lifted a cigarette to his lips, waiting anxiously for the next train to come.