They were built for it, the men with long legs. They moved through the crowd like mercury and molasses, swift whilst never seeming to be. The path of least resistance was the only one they knew, and their motion was of an effortless nature – bordering on languorous.
Eyes… slid over them in a frictionless fashion. They weren’t invisible but, rather, unnoticeable.
He progressed at an easy pace through the station, existing in obfuscation this morning as on every other. The clothes he wore were of a calculated plainness, tailored in more ways than one, and picked for him almost at random from among the thousand-odd hangers the company maintained.
Above his head and beyond his field of vision, the minute turned on a digital clock face, and times and names of places shunted leftwards on a second screen. A muted whine-shriek made passage through from the platforms, the sound following the same route as the day’s commuters. Beyond one tide of such people an olive-skinned man bought a double espresso from a kiosk near the platforms – he did this today as he had done each day for the past twenty-three.
The coffee-drinker contemplated the thimble-cup of thick, black caffeine, sipping at it once before stepping back into the maelstrom. He was bound through the sea of bobbing heads to Eldon Street where, if past precedents held once more, he would signal for and board a black cab.
The distance between the two men closed, they came to walk parallel from one another across the marble concourse; each existing as an intermittent blur in the other’s peripheral vision, interrupted here and there by the passage of a fellow commuter between. The foreign man cut an odd figure in the Savile Row suits he tended toward, so thought the man next to him. Something in his bearing deprived the finery of whatever pomp it might have had – not a humility, but a tranquility bordering on the beatific. It bled through his raiment effortlessly. His self drowned out his wardrobe, much as the plain man’s clothing drowned out his self. The inversion was far from lost on the latter, who promptly his thoughts away alongside his eyes.
Ahead, red brick and cast iron gave way to steel, and marble to granite, at the end of the station proper. Retailers sprawled beyond in a miniature shopping arcade, and streets existed beyond that. Above this mouth to the world resided a broad television, itself a mouth in a different sense. Images of Riyadh passed by – King Fahd Road, the TV Tower, and Kingdom Centre, all slightly less bright for the present problems in Saudi. Subtitles of a correspondent’s narration accompanied, and breaking news ticked by at the foot of these – snippets that, unbeknownst to the public, would be headlines by the time evening papers went to press. None were news to the plain man.
Follower and followed left the immediate bustle of the station, the swell and press of people breaking as the two moved through the train station chains of the arcade. They peddled birthday cards, world foods, confections, and gifts; those small things a commuter might need or believe to need. A dreadlocked man touted the Big Issue halfway up the arcade, and the plain man stopped to buy his copy. When again he took a step, the man he followed was an appreciable distance ahead – which had of course been the point.
Regardless the magazine was worth the purchase. Blazoned on its face was a thoroughly defaced Arc de Triomphe, one artist’s take on how the current French collapse would play out, and one that would prove eerily accurate in a few weeks; to those who didn’t believe in suggestion and the self-fulfilling prophecy at any rate.
The plain man stepped into the remainder of the year’s sunshine, then veering right where his man had veered left. He made his way past the decades-old sculpture of freestanding steel, and up a second steel structure: a flight of spiralled steps, bound for his own morning coffee. From on high he glanced toward the road in time to see a fine-suited figure extend a hand at waist height. One of the more recent iterations of the hackney carriage dipped into the curb next to him, somehow comprehending the oddly understated hail. It’s hire light flickered out as he stepped into the passenger compartment. The vehicle pulled away in due time, presumably once a destination was given. And presumably this was the same destination as on every other morning, though that was not the plain man’s purview this morning. A plain car came to follow the black cab, and the olive-skinned coffee drinker became another’s problem – if only for a time.
Turning from the view, the plain man made for a coffee stand. He ordered espresso. The barista tending the kiosk gave a few coins change from a five pound note. No glimmer of recognition crossed his face as he looked on the plain man he’d served each day at this time for the last twenty-three such days.
He stepped back to the view, sipping the mud-like contents of the cup with a wrinkle in his nose.
‘Don’t you take it with milk, John?’ queried a familiar voice, behind.
‘Fancied a change,’ remarked John.



Elliot Summerhayes[tagline_box  title=”Elliot Summerhayes”  description=”is Production Editor of The South Bank Review. In slivers of his remaining free time he enjoys experimenting with cross-genre fiction, and is currently working in dribs and drabs on two novellas (excerpts included in this issue), as well as a film noir interactive fiction artefact.”][/tagline_box]