By Carolyn Webb
His eyes were boring into me. If looks could kill I’d be dead in seconds.
I looked behind me, and back at him. “What?” I said.
But there were just the two of us – me and the elderly man – in the train from the city to Hurstbridge.
It was one of those interminable, off peak train rides where the driver goes at snail’s pace, stops at every signal and has a natter to all the Met staff he sees at stations.
The bloke in my carriage was up the other end, leaning on a pole, but he strode towards me. He came close, and sat down in the window seat opposite me, without asking.
“Excuse me,’’ I said. “You didn’t ask me.”
“Ask what?” he said.
“Whether you can sit there.”
“Doesn’t look like it’s occupied.”
I made an exaggerated glance behind me. “My boyfriend. He’s due to get on at the next station. So, sorry. It’s taken.”
“I won’t be long. You’re that girl, aren’t you?” he said, and there was that hostile glare again. He had strange swampy green eyes. He was pale and wiry with white hair and he had a bristly, semi-Hitler moustache.
“I have never met you in my life,” I said.
He was still glaring at me, as if I’d just smeared dog poo on him.
The train had just halted between stations again, somewhere near Ivanhoe. It was a fine, cool day with sun streaming through the windows.
“Er, listen, mate, I have to get off at this stop, so sorry I have to be going,’’ I said, as I stood up.
“No.’’ He said.
“ExCUSE me?” I said. “Are you the police? No? Then get out of my way,’’ I said, a little freaked out by now.
His spindly leg shot out and blocked me from the aisle. I pushed against it. It was surprisingly strong. I went to step over him but he pushed me back into my seat with a palm to my upper arm.
“That is assault. You are in big trouble,’’ I said, taking out my phone, my hands shaking as I tried to key in my PIN. My fingers wouldn’t work.
“You’re not going anywhere. You’re from Watsy,’’ he said.
“PARDON me?” I asked, although I knew he meant Watsonia. Although as far as I knew, I’d never admitted to anyone being from Watsonia. Let alone being from Watsy.
“I used to run the milk bar on Watsonia Road,’’ he said. “Back in the 1970s.” His voice rose and he looked to be revving up for a big yarn. “You and your sister.”
“Y-e-e-s,’’ I said, thinking that if I could, I’d be backing out of this carriage slowly, my hands up.
“You came in to the shop. The summer of ’77. Am I right? You stole a packet of chips. Samboy salt and vinegar. I’ll never forget it.
“You got your sister to create a diversion, to start crying or something. You pinched the chips. And you ran.’’
“I’ve got it all written down here,’’ he said, bringing out a thick exercise book, and flicking through it.
Its pages were divided into columns, and crammed with scribbled entries in different coloured ink. Under “name” it had “McDonald girl” and “son of butcher”. “Yes, here it is, dark haired Simpson girl. That’s you.”
I looked frantically at the ceiling as the train got going again – did they have security cameras on these trains?
‘’Well missy,’’ he said, and he was shouting now. ‘’You ruined me!’’
‘’Excuse me?’’ I was so gobsmacked I could hardly speak.
“Oh, you deny it do you? You RUINED ME.’’ He was standing on his seat, hands on hips.
There was a very good chance he would topple over if we went round a bend. ‘’My income dived. I had to close the shop. My marriage broke up. I started drinking, went to the pokies….’’
“Look man,’’ I said. “M-m-maybe you should get off at the Heidelberg. At the Austin – you can see a nice doctor there,’’ and I jumped over the seats behind me, ran up the end of the carriage and made a run for a door, or at least the emergency speaker.
“But you don’t deny it, DO YOU?” He shouted. His knees were a little creaky as he stood up, and he was slow to start after me.
The train was going at glacial speed, but finally, it was almost at Eaglemont. Where there would be no one around. I punched in my phone PIN again. ‘’No battery’’ it said and the screen went black.
The man was almost there, and he pulled out a knife. ‘’Well, you’re not getting away with it, Missy,’’ he said as he lunged at me. I blocked it with my phone and the knife ripped my favourite leather phone cover.
Before he had time for another blow, the train stopped at Eaglemont. It seemed an eternity of grappling with and fending off my assailant as the little door button turned green and opened as I punched it.
I ran, up and down those infernal Eaglemont hills, for what seemed like eternity, until my lungs almost burst. After I got my breath back, I ducked into a milk bar.
I’d have killed for some salt and vinegar chips, right then, so I chucked a stone at the window, to create a diversion. I didn’t have money on me, but that had never stopped me in the past.
“What a crazy day,” I thought to myself, and I got my second wind as I sprinted off with the chips, the shop owner shouting and swearing behind me.