by Oliver Barton
The two boys have yellow vests. They sing loudly, terribly. Everyone in the tube train pretends to ignore them, to be inconspicuous. One boy, large, tattooed, grabs a newspaper from a passenger, tear the pages, flings them into the air. The other leaps about, his skinny elbows colliding with people as he catches the bits. One passenger remonstrates: ‘Will you please stop that and be quiet,’ he says. The large boy goes up to him. He has a knife. It is extremely sharp. He puts a finger into the man’s neckband and pulls him towards him. The knife slices downwards through jacket, tie and shirt, slices down to the waist. The clothing falls apart revealing a pallid chest. Blood is beginning to ooze where the knife has nicked the skin.
Everyone else tries to be unseen, to shrink. The Observer notes all this.
A drinks can hits the large boy on the head. He turns and sees it was thrown by the thin boy, who stands leering at him. ‘Oi, Zeb, oi, oi, oi!’ he shouts, thrusting a finger up in an obscene gesture. The large boy, Zeb, grabs a suitcase from a seated woman. She tries feebly to cling on to it. He wrenches it from her and flings it down the train at his mate. It crashes into a vertical pole and splits open, spilling out its lifeblood of clothing. The thin boy grabs a pair of panties, puts them on his head and capers up and down, gibbering like a gibbon.
Zeb thrusts his head into a passenger’s face. ‘What you staring at?’ he says. He swaggers, daring retaliation, his shaven head a bull’s head, a bully’s head.
The Observer sees the passengers transfixed in disbelief, in terror at what’s to come, the unknown of the uncontrolled. None thinks to reach for the emergency button. Further down the train one man has his mobile phone out and is quietly taking photos. He looks down at his phone, and something in the picture grabs his attention. His eyes widen. The Observer slides over and looks over his shoulder. The two boys are blurs of motion, but in the picture there is something red.
The man takes another photo. The red is larger. And another. Larger still. It alarms the man. It alarms him so much he ignores the danger and sets off to warn the boys. As he approaches, crying ‘Look out!’, Zeb swipes him with a casual backhand. The man falls unconscious to the floor.
Afterwards no one can describe it. Perhaps an explosion but without noise, without a flash, just a consequence. Maybe the Observer would know, but the Observer will not be there.
When the man on the floor comes round a few minutes later, it is quiet. The train has stopped. Someone has at last pressed the emergency button. The passengers wait for the guard, the police, whatever happens next when the button is pressed.
Of the boys there are only bits. Some, splattered on the windows, slowly slip down. The flesh is quite pale, almost white. There is no blood. No blood anywhere. Except oozing from the scratches on the chest of the man whose clothing was slashed.
Slicing the stillness, the train’s generator starts up, though the train does not move. Startled, some passengers begin to murmur to each other, beginning the process that will takes weeks, months, of coming to terms with what they have witnessed, the nature of which they cannot hope to fathom.
Unnoticed, unseen, under cover of the noise, the Observer slips away. She has her evidence. It is enough.
Oliver Barton was born and bred in Cheltenham, the one-time home of Tilley’s crumpets. Which is why he now lives in Abergavenny.