I thought I saw John on a train this morning, standing by the carriage door staring out at the ever-changing landscape as he sped his way to work. He was in his early 40s, smartly dressed with good posture and standing firm as the train made its way through industrial northern towns. His black overcoat was cut well and didn’t look too heavy or dominating for his medium frame as overcoats sometimes can. His suit was impeccable and fashionable, but John would never wear unfashionable. He dressed smart and of his time, not flamboyant and with few flourishes. He was just John.
He had aged well, maybe a little extra weight and slightly broader than he was but generally speaking he looked good. His medium brown hair had receded and was thinner than it had been and the flecks of grey now decorating his temples quite suited him. His skin was still fresh and as I studied his face I wondered why he had so few lines. He laughed and giggled constantly when he was younger, always finding humour in the dullest of days and always laughing and smiling his way out of darkness. I wondered where his laughter lines had gone or if his gift of always seeing the positive side had kept his lines at bay.
He wasn’t the best looking man I knew but there was something attractive about him, he was one of those people who everyone liked but many rarely knew. John was endearing and being around him made you feel happier, his carefree manner was constant when in company but I knew that he hurt, just a little, inside. Our journey continued and John remained standing. Every so often he’d bow his head and look outwards to check our progress through pastures and woodlands, villages and wastelands.
As we travelled through the grey morning weather on our way to London, I wondered where he was going and what his day had in store for him. I noticed a small black briefcase tucked between his highly polished brogues and thought about its contents. Knowing John, in addition to any papers he needed for meetings there would be at least one copy of Gay Times and a list of bars and clubs that he had researched alongside his plans for business. The bars and clubs could never be left unexplored. Life was too short not to have at least the briefest of encounters.
Thinking about the way he always approached his life, I suspected that he now worked for himself, maybe running a bar or a restaurant; maybe he was running his own cleaning company or an agency for life’s dreamers and drifters. I suspected that he probably still lived in his home town of Wakefield but on his way to London for meetings with clients, on a journey to seek investors for a new business venture. Maybe he was opening a new club in London. I could just imagine John at the helm and making sure everyone who came in forgot their troubles and left their worries with the hat check. Maybe he’d gone bankrupt… it wouldn’t have been the first time in his life that he had no money. John was the type of friend who would give you his last penny if you needed it and spend his last pound without lament.
I thought how happy I was for him, now successful, with a man who loved him and stood by him, living in their canal-side apartment tastefully furnished, minimal but homely. I bet he had cats or maybe a medium-sized scruffy mongrel called George. He liked animals and they liked him. Everyone liked John. They probably had great evenings at home with a diverse set of friends, life’s losers, loners, listeners and lovers from many generations all nurtured by John’s warmth.
He bent down to retrieve a book or a diary from his case and began checking the pages within. He looked at his phone and checked for messages. He glanced at his watch and readied himself for London. The train slowed through the layers of the city and came to rest in the Station. I followed John off the train and caught one last look at him as he merged into the morning’s masses. People on platforms, arrivals and departures…
I thought I saw John on a train today but it wasn’t him. John never lived beyond his 30s, he died too young but lived his life to the full. If he had been on that train, his story would be filled with friends, family, happiness and happenings. His life ended without regret, his memory lives on. John always made me smile.