Dragging a bag containing small trinkets, memories of the old life, Osler trudged across the platform. They scraped and clanked with every step. Osler liked the noise and began to readjust his steps to move in time with the rhythm being produced by the holdall. A kind of primitive techno; a soundtrack for his subsidence.
Osler waited for the tube. He stood beside a poster exaggerating the sexual allure of men's deodorant.
The tunnel began to whistle and a crisp packet was blown upwards as the careering train arrived. A squealing crescendo. Then, with a pffssht of the doors, suits exited and were instantly replaced.
Osler took his seat. He knew the rules. No eye contact, far less staring. He wedged his bag between his legs and closed his eyes. The train bumped on. Osler counted the stops in his head.
Four more to go.
He felt a tug on his trousers.
Through one eye, he could see that the boy was peering into the tiny opening at one end of the bag's zip.
"What's in there mister?"
Who was he with? Osler peered round. No one between the boy and the next handrail. Eyes were averted as if they hadn't noticed the boy's question. No one was claiming him.
Again. "What's in there mister?"
What was in there? How to answer that?
Osler closed his eyes again. Hoping for peace.
Again the tugging.
"Are you going on holiday, mister?"
Osler noticed the boy's keen eyes. Eager and blue. Dimpled cheeks. Blond hair. Looking for something.
"What's your name, mister?"
"Osler" said Osler.
With a sigh, he let him in. "What's yours?"
Osler nodded. The question was enough. The boy eased himself back against the faded velvet seat. The train gargled on, spitting out and re-swallowing passengers until Osler reached his stop.
The doors opened and he was gone.
Toby watched him disappear through the dirty perspex as the train fast-forwarded and was sucked into blackness. In the dull light, the boy quickly unzipped the bag.
Half a mile back, Osler escalated into the light and breathed the fresh air of spring.