The tube trundles woozily under the east end. Jonathan’s leg jiggles as he pours every thought into his phone screen, but the alcohol is making it difficult to focus. To his left, Bruce and Harry share a set of earphones and nod slowly to the beat. Opposite, a girl with blue hair and Jarvis Cocker glasses reads Virginia Woolf. Down the carriage, two men with sleeve tattoos up both arms hug each other while singing Bon Jovi.
Jonathan nudges Bruce and shows him his phone.
‘Mate, I am so sick at chess, you don’t even know,’ he says.
Bruce smiles, turns to Harry.
‘This track is sick. It takes me back so far. Fourteen years man.’
The song is only nine years old, but Harry ignores Bruce’s error, closes his eyes and soaks in the music above the descant of the train’s ageing brakes as it slows into Bethnal Green. Jonathan returns to his phone forlornly, before trying again.
‘Just look at this,’ he says, holding his phone up for them both to see this time.
Harry breaks into a huge smile and punches fists with Jonathan.
‘That is sick.’
‘I know, right?’
Bruce’s smile is tinged with annoyance.
‘You should come round,’ says Harry, pulling the earphone out of his ear. ‘We can get fucked up and play chess.’
Bruce’s smile disappears and he pulls the earphone from Harry’s grasp and stuffs both buds in his pocket.
‘I need time,’ says Jonathan. ‘I hate fucked-up chess when people start pressuring you to make a move. I’m like no way, you’re gonna have to wait.’
‘No, it’s cool,’ says Harry. ‘We’ll keep it cool.’
‘Cool,’ says Jonathan.
‘Cool,’ says Bruce.
High-pitched beeps and the doors swoosh shut, the train burrowing back into the tunnel towards Mile End. Jonathan gets up and sits the other side of Harry so they can talk above the din. Watching his brother switch seats, Bruce feels the bile from the last pint rise in his throat and he swallows hard. He rests his head on the glass behind and looks at the girl with the blue hair in the curve of the reflection above him.
She looks at peace with herself, he thinks. She knows who she is. One day, I’ll be Bruce, whoever that is.
I wanted to just write a tableau today. I just had fun playing with the words, without really thinking of conflict etc. I’ll return to Alfie Twitch tomorrow I think. About time he had an outing 🙂