Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
The Commuter, dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase, commutes to the office each morning on the Tube. He enters Baker Street station at around 7am every weekday, and catches the southbound train towards Canary Wharf on the Jubilee Line.
The station is generally not very busy at this time in the morning – part of the reason The Commuter leaves so early, as he hates the hustle and bustle of rush hour. Plus it gives him time to grab a coffee and a paper, and catch up on some emails before work. Another key factor is the beggars. They don’t tend to surface from the tunnels until it starts getting busier. Richer pickings, you see.
Anyway, one Tuesday morning, The Commuter is taking his usual route through the corridors of the station, when he notices a beggar sitting on the floor about halfway along the empty corridor with a guitar at his side, rattling a baked beans can with a single coin in it.
“Spare change, boss?” asks The Beggar as The Commuter approaches. “Sorry pal…” replies The Commuter, walking on by without even glancing at The Beggar.
It’s a line he’s muttered on countless occasions over the years. He’s not in the business of putting his hand in his pocket. Plus he’s streamlined his routine down to a fine art, and hates any kind of interruption. In any event, The Commuter no longer carries spare change with him, as everything’s automated these days. Cash long since gave way to chip and pin, which itself has evolved into the even more convenient contactless payment. Much more efficient and far less hassle.
More time for emails.
The Commuter goes about his daily business without a second thought for The Beggar.
The next day, business as usual. But again he sees The Beggar rattling that single coin in that beans can. “Spare change, boss?” mutters The Beggar. This time The Commuter glances at him and notices that he’s young, maybe early twenties. He looks him in the eye and says “Sorry pal,” but this time with a faintly sarcastic tone as if to say “We’ve been through this before…”.
The Commuter affords himself a smugly satisfied smirk as he again walks on by.
It’s Thursday now, and as The Commuter follows his familiar route through the corridors to his platform. In the distance he hears the sound of that single coin rattling around in that can, echoing along the empty corridors.
“He’s there again?” he mutters to himself, slowing his pace a little before putting his head down and soldiering on headlong into his third confrontation with The Beggar in as many days. This time, The Commuter will be prepared, as he has time to think of a short speech to come back with when he hears the predictable line…
Sure enough, The Commuter rounds the corner to see The Beggar sitting there rattling that coin – the same coin? – in that bloody can again!
“Spare change, boss?” comes the contrived plea, before the Commuter unleashes his annoyance upon The Beggar with his well- memorized retort…
“Look pal, I’m NOT your boss! And if I was, I’d have sacked you by now, you lazy, entitled millenial! Why don’t you get off your arse, get a job and stop hassling those of us who can be bothered MAKING something of their lives? I say again, SORRY PAL!”
And without waiting for a reply, The Commuter simply turns and walks away to continue his journey as normal.
As the day goes on, The Commuter keeps casting his mind back to that interaction with The Beggar in the tube station, and it’s annoying him, distracting him from his daily business. On the way home he passes the spot where The Beggar had been sat for the past three days and wonders why he doesn’t encounter him on his return journey.
Now it’s Friday, and funnily enough it’s the 13th. The Commuter isn’t superstitious, but he does acknowledge Friday the 13th as a date that holds some significance and a bit of notoriety. He picks up his usual coffee and paper and enters the station, but this time he feels a pang of dread with the memory of yesterday’s encounter still fresh in his memory. After what he said to him, how would The Beggar react today? Would he attack him? Would he KILL him? These irrational thoughts invade The Commuter’s mind as he begins his journey into the labyrinth of tunnels to his platform.
Then he hears THAT rattle faintly echoing along the corridors… THAT coin rattling around in THAT can again, almost like a beacon, luring him into another confrontation with The Beggar. “No, not today… not Friday the 13th…” he utters, and glances around before deciding to go a different route to his platform today. Anything to avoid a repeat of yesterday – or perhaps worse.
Baker Street station is known for being the station with the most platforms on the London Underground. It’s almost like a hub where you can get to many different lines, but there’s a price – it’s basically the Spaghetti Junction of stations, with corridors, intersections, and escalators with any number of configurations to get to a given platform. But today – Friday the 13th – The Commuter can use this to his advantage, to take evasive action and strategically avoid any potential entanglements with his nemesis, The Beggar.
The sound of the rattling coin fades away. The Commuter knows that today he’ll be a little later to the office due to this unplanned detour, but he is focused and knows the layout of this station well. He’ll get there eventually.
As he nears the end of a corridor deep in the Baker Street rabbit warren, he becomes aware of that familiar rattling sound. He slowly approaches the end of the tunnel and sees The Beggar sitting there with that can. “Eh? He shouldn’t be there…,” he says to himself, his back pressed against the tunnel just out of sight of The Beggar. Luckily this is an intersection, and he has another alternative corridor to nip into and not have to see him for a fourth day on the trot. So off he tiptoes and ups his pace along his new route. This is gonna be a long way round now. He’s gonna have to go down the escalator to the lower platform and back up to the other side.
He’s panting now, conscious of the time and wary that he’s carrying a hot coffee and a paper in one hand, and his briefcase in the other.
Once he’s on the escalator down to the other platform he starts walking quickly down it, along the platform and onto the upward escalator to the other side. He grabs a second to catch his breath and glance at his watch – and of course the lid comes popping off the coffee cup sending hot liquid right down his trousers.
“FOR FUCK’S SAKE!” he exclaims, chucking the half empty cup, sending it sliding down the middle of the escalators.
He’s really pressed for time now, and as he nears the top of the escalator, unbelievably enough, he hears that bloody coin again! “Right, that’s it…!” he says to himself. As he slowly approaches the top of the escalator, peering over the top step, he claps eyes on The Beggar at the far end of the middle corridor, rattling away, seemingly waiting for him. The left one will take him back where he came from so he decides to take the right corridor and swing round towards the Jubilee Line platform where he needs to be.
Again, the rattling fades away, and The Commuter breathes a sigh of relief. He rounds the corner to the left and almost walks right into The Beggar! “Spare change, boss?”, and the deafening rattle of the coin in that can! All of this happens in the same second, causing The Commuter to almost jump out of his skin, and immediately panic, dropping everything before shrieking and sprinting off down the corridor in terror.
As he’s running, he starts to realize how ridiculous he’s being and slows to a trot. Then it dawns on him that he’s left his briefcase back there when he nearly shat himself. “I’m gonna have to go back…” he says inwardly, and stops in his tracks. “…but I can’t go back there empty handed.”
He pats his pockets but realizes this is futile, as he doesn’t carry change, so he decides to go back and get his stuff, and face The Beggar. He’ll even apologize if necessary. He knows by this point that he’s going to be late for work, but he NEEDS his briefcase! Otherwise he’ll not even be able to swipe himself through the security doors.
The Commuter begins to retrace his steps, and enters the corridor where he encountered The Beggar. He peers round the corner, and does not see him. More noticeably, as he walks slowly along the corridor, he realizes that he doesn’t hear that bloody coin! And more importantly, he sees his briefcase lying on the floor right at the end of the corridor where he dropped it. As he approaches, he half expects to come face to face with The Beggar again. But no…
Relieved, he reaches his briefcase and bends down to pick it up, along with his paper. Then his look turns to terror as he notices the headline with a VERY familiar face on the picture:
MISSING MUSICIAN FOUND DEAD IN TUBE STATION
Trembling, he reads further…
The body of missing young musician Harry Garfield was found in Baker Street tube station yesterday, after an apparent suicide. Aspiring singer-songwriter and former London busker Garfield was last seen last weekend when he was ridiculed by a member of the judging panel at a live TV talent show. The time of death was put at some time Monday evening.
The lights in the corridor flicker briefly and go out with a pop, leaving The Commuter standing in complete darkness.
Then he hears the rattle of that coin…
CREDIT: Chris Hendry
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