Strangers on a train

“Martin? Me again, I got cut off. No, still on the train. Just past Milton Keynes.”

With Prejudice
Passengers on a First Great Western train from London, England, UK (©Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo)

Evening. A packed mainline train, bound for London.

MEL
(into phone) Martin? Me again, I got cut off. No, still on the train. Just past Milton Keynes. Yeah, about eight if we’re not held up. Can you put the Cumberland pie in on 180 at 7.15? From frozen. Beans. Alright, peas, I’m not that bothered.

Hello? Sorry, tunnel . . . I was saying—Martin? Hello?

There you are. What? Ice cream and fruit, there’s a Taste The Difference on the second shelf for Marcie. Kai can have a Kit Kat if he helps wash up.

Turn the telly down, Martin, I can’t hear myself think. What is it, Corrie? Did she leave him? Eileen. The builder. Oh, don’t tell me, I’ll get it on catch-up.

No! We never even had the meeting! “Sorry, Mel, something came up”. I know, I was well pissed off. He’s just so up himself. It’s like all I need. Well, they lost that account but it’s not my fault, I worked my butt off . . . Well, Brexit I suppose.

After what? Oh, for us you mean? I don’t know, Babybel? Satsumas? No, I haven’t had time, I had annual reviews back-to-back right through my lunch break. I’ve got a job n’all, if you hadn’t noticed.

DEIDRE
(cutting in) Excuse me? Can I have a word?

MEL
Sorry? I’m on the phone.

DEIDRE
Yes. I know. I mean, could I have a quick chat with Martin?

MEL
What? You don’t know Martin.

DEIDRE
Well, I do a bit. Now.

MEL
No—(into phone) Wait, hang on Martin . . . Some woman next to me. I don’t know!

(to DEIDRE) Why? I mean—this is a private call!

DEIDRE
Oh, is it? I hadn’t realised that. It’s been so involving for us all. May I . . . please . . . ?

DEIDRE reaches for the phone.

MEL
This is flipping weird. (into phone)  Martin, I’m just passing you—I DON’T KNOW!

DEIDRE
(into phone) Hi Martin, this is Deidre. I’ve had the good fortune to be travelling in the next seat to your partner Mel.

MEL
How’d you know my name?!

DEIDRE
(into phone)—and I’m a bit concerned about you doing peas rather than beans with the Cumberland pie. Well, it’s a rotten blowy night out there and I would think the beans—baked, I’m presuming?—Well, just more warming somehow. Will you be having potatoes or are there some in the pie?

MEL
ARE YOU RAVING MAD? GIVE ME THAT PHONE BACK! IT’S GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU WHAT VEGETABLE I HAVE IN MY OWN—

DEIRDRE
(to MEL) Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more.

MEL
Well, mind your own friggin’ business then!

DEIRDRE
(calmly) But Mel, you’ve made it my frigging business, don’t you agree? I have intimate knowledge of what Martin’s watching on TV and what he wants for dinner and why you didn’t have that conversation with your boss—

MEL
I DON’T BELIEVE THIS! Give me that phone—

DEIRDRE
And I know quite a bit about who wears the skinny low-rise jeans in your house—(into phone) In fact, Martin, I probably know a bit more than you do, because she hasn’t explained why she couldn’t pick up a dessert at lunchtime but I know, thanks to one of her earlier phone calls—around Macclesfield, I think—to Stan in Human Resources regarding some tasty foreplay in a stationery cupboard. Anyway, I’ll hand you back to Mel now and she can tell you herself. Hello, Martin? Oh . . . we must have been cut off.

(to MEL) Here’s your phone. Hope I haven’t used up all your juice. Are you OK, Mel?  You seem to have dropped your vape.

Silently, MEL takes back her phone. The train slows.

Where are we? Watford! That’ll be my stop. Excuse me, Mel. Gosh, you have gone quiet! All that talking must have made your throat raw. Get Martin to make you a nice Manuka honey drink when you get home. Safe journey!

DEIDRE exits.

A beat, then MEL keys a number into her phone.

MEL
Mum? OMFG, you are not going to believe what just happened. No, I’m on the train . . .

Fade out, as train (and MEL) rattle on.