Your marriage is governed by punctuality, and you are late. Your train to London left snowy Manchester precisely an hour later than scheduled. You check your phone for missed calls. Roger will be wondering where you are. He will be annoyed you didn’t take an earlier train to avoid such a predictable delay. You turn off your phone.
A tall man in a shiny suit walks along the carriage and sits opposite you. His smile cuts through the rough terrain of his cheeks and you find yourself smiling back. Comparing him to Roger, as you do all men, you come to the conclusion that this one is always late. His phone jangles from a trouser pocket and he squints to see who’s calling before answering.
“Steff, babe. Sorry I didn’t call you earlier…the thing is I’m stuck in Manchester…No, I’m not going to make it to London tonight. But I’ll see you tomorrow, and we can celebrate then.”
He placates his disappointed caller, skilfully ending the conversation before the announcer cuts in with, ‘we will shortly be arriving at London Euston’. The man jumps up and is gone. In no hurry yourself, you wait to let everyone get off. But on rising from your seat, you see the man has left his wallet.
On entering the main concourse you catch sight of him leaving the station; you follow him up the Euston Road. Now you are speed-walking and by the time you see him enter Boots you are out of breath. About to tap his shoulder he is recognised by a make-up assistant.
“Oh my god,” shouts the assistant whose features you can just make out beneath her face paint. “You said you were stuck in Manchester.”
“Surprise, surprise! Happy Birthday Steff.”
They kiss, and she tells him she’ll be finished in five minutes. He turns around, momentarily recognising you, his phone goes off again. This time he speaks more quietly.
“Vicky, how’s it going sweetheart.” His head swivels in the direction of the retreating assistant, and he puts a finger in his vacant ear. “I was just going to call you…No, I’m not going to make it back tonight…Yeah, stuck in Manchester again…Sorry….Give the kids a kiss for me. I love you.”
You have never hit anyone before, not even Roger, so the force of your punch against the man’s bristled cheek comes as a surprise to both of you. You throw down his wallet and rush out the shop. Along Tottenham Court Road you duck into a café and turn on your phone, it rings almost straight away.
“Roger, I was just going to call you…No, no, I’m fine…Where the hell am I? I’m stuck in Manchester.”
You smile when he shouts down the phone. How could you be stuck? What is he supposed to do now? You cut him off, pull up a sleeve and gently rub your arm.