There was a man sitting opposite me on the Northern Line last night eating a Big Mac. The smell filled the carriage and it made me feel quite sick. Well, sick and hungry. Sick, hungry and jealous.
He finished the Big Mac and squashed the inaccurate box before dropping it into the brown paper McDonalds bag. He then squashed this further, eventually rolling it into a small tight package which he then tucked behind himself. I began to suspect that when the man got up to leave the train, he would leave this behind on the seat, hoping no-one would notice. A reasonable hope, nobody really seemed to be paying him any attention and as the other passengers left the train and were replaced by newcomers, no-one would know he had been the Big Mac eater and wouldn’t associate him with the piece of litter. The perfect crime.
Except I had noticed him. In my head, I had visions of him getting up at Embankment and me reaching over, picking up the squashed bag and saying matter of factly “Excuse me, I think you’ve forgotten something” as I handed it to him. Redfaced, he would rush off the train and the rest of the carriage would break into spontaneous applause.
As I waited for my opportunity to humiliate a middle-aged man, my attention was drawn to the person sitting next to him. He was writing a message in a birthday card. So far, he had written:
Happy birthday Seb
He was stuck. He couldn’t think what to write next. He looked around, twiddling the pen in his hand. He read the adverts above where I was sitting, looking for inspiration. He clicked the pen several times. He scratched his ear. He looked at the picture on the front of the card. He clicked the pen several more times. He drummed his fingers. He looked at the picture on the front of the card again.
Then, he made a tiny movement, a slight gesture, and I knew instantly that he’d decided what he was going to write in the card. It wasn’t a decisive nod or the eyebrow flick of sudden inspiration, it was a slight shrug and tilt of the head. He hadn’t thought of the perfect message, he had simply thought “Sod it”.
Carefully, in big cartoon-y writing, he drew the outline of a number. 2. Then next to it, he drew a 1. 21. He signed his name at the bottom of the card and closed it. Then he thought about it for a second. This was Seb’s twenty-first birthday. Just drawing a blocky number and writing “Happy birthday Seb” isn’t good enough. It needs to be special. He drew a circle around the 21. He started to close the card, but he still wasn’t happy. This time he drew a second circle around the original one, creating a ring. This was enough. This will do. Happy birthday Seb.
The train got to Waterloo and I got off. The man who had eaten the Big Mac was still on the train and I never got the opportunity to challenge him. For all I know, he might even have taken the bit of litter with him when he got off the train.