‘…Why do they even put backwards-facing seats into railway carriages?’ asked Shaw. ‘Nobody likes them.’
‘Well, I don’t think they are backwards facing all the time, are they? I mean, when they get to where they are going, they don’t turn around to come back, do they? They just get pulled from the other end….’
‘No, of course not. I know that,’ snapped Shaw, who felt that he had to say something, but really just wanted to concentrate on the fact that he was distinctly unhappy at having to watch where he had just been funnel silently away into the distance. Knowing that his future was looming up, unseen, behind him made him anxious and, as everyone that knew him would testify, an anxious Shaw was a spiky Shaw. For the moment, he occupied himself by staring malignantly into the distance, but Dinah recognised the signs, some kind of irrational outburst was just around the corner.
‘Would you like a coffee?’ she asked, all smoothing oil on troubled waters.
‘I would,’ said Shaw, ‘but that’s another thing: no buffet car. A two hour journey and no buffet car. What do they expect you to do, drink the sweat from your own brow?’
Dinah recognised the warning: a troubled sea fanned by a full-on anxiety storm. ‘’I’ve brought a flask,’ she said.
‘A flask. I’ve brought a flask of coffee.’ She unscrewed the little metal cup and poured the black steaming liquid, watching as Shaw’s bottom lip began, petulantly to protrude. He opened his mouth to speak, but Dinah was ready for him. ‘Milk and sugar are in the bag, she said. Shaw’s mouth made the slightest twitch towards complaint. ‘And biscuits,’ added Dinah.
Dinah allowed herself the faintest of smiles. ‘Bourbon, of course.’
Shaw looked into Dinah’s face as passed the cup towards him. She smiled and he felt the tension leave him in an instant, tingling away from the nape of his neck.
‘Now, do you mind telling me where we are going – and why?’
‘There’s something we’ve got to see,’ said Shaw.
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Well, where then?’ persisted Dinah.
‘There’s the thing…’
Dinah sighed deeply. ‘You don’t know do you?’
‘Not exactly, no, but I think I’ll know when we get there.’
‘How? How will you know?’
‘The man in the tartan hat,’ Shaw nodded, indicating the man on the seat behind him. ‘He’ll be getting off there.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Well, he has to get off somewhere, doesn’t he?’
‘I suppose so, but why him? Why are we following him?’
‘To see where he gets off, of course.’ Shaw sipped his coffee, indicating that, as far as he was concerned, the matter was closed.
Dinah, as ever, absorbed and understood the subliminal message, but ploughed on anyway. ‘I mean, you must have some reason to want to know why he, in particular, is going to get off the train, wherever he might choose to do so.’
Shaw drank slowly, eeking out the silence as long as he could. Finally, his cup empty, he sighed resignedly and said, ‘Do you think we should be following somebody else?’
‘Well, no,’ Dinah stuttered. ‘That is…’
‘Good,’ said Shaw, settling back in his seat and revelling in his moment of triumph. ‘That’s settled then. We’ll stick with my original plan.’
Despite a billion reservations bouncing around in her head, like a zero-gravity hailstorm, she decided that the time had come to just go along with the flow and enjoy the day out. She would have said ‘watching the world go by’, but she had to agree with Shaw, there was little fun in watching the world that had already gone by.
Slowly, imperceptibly, she surrendered to the steady sway of the train, and her head sagged steadily towards Shaw’s shoulder. She drifted off into a soft, dreamless sleep, unaware of the gentle rhythmic snoring of Shaw in her ear…
…They both awoke in the otherwise empty carriage to the first lurch of the return journey. Outside the carriage, all was dark. ‘Typical,’ said Shaw. ‘We’re facing the right way, and now there’s nothing to see…’