I met a genius on the train today.
I got on at Bristol Temple Meads at dusk, feeling decidedly ropey and just wanted to fall asleep until a guard kicked me off at Southampton. I was clutching a carrier bag full of Lucozade and Haribo Fangtastics, my surefire hangover cure. I was hoping for a seat in the quiet carriage but as I looked around, a sea of heads stretched out before me, most with iPads or Kindles but some with actual paperbacks. I sighed and went through to the next compartment. Ditto, although it was a lot noisier with rugby fans celebrating a win at Cardiff Arms Park. I made my way through the train, wondering if I’d ever get a seat then groaning as I realised I might have to stand for the whole two and a half hour journey. Perhaps I’d be allowed to curl up in a corner of the guard’s carriage, amongst the bikes and surfboards? Or maybe an old lady would take pity on my fragile state and offer her seat to me?
The door to the last carriage hissed open and I shuffled dejectedly along, having already resigned myself to sitting on the floor when I spotted a seat. I picked up my pace worried it might be a hallucination brought on by alcohol poisoning but no, there were in fact three spare seats on a completely full train with standing room only. I didn’t care and slumped onto the velour fabric with a huge sense of relief.
I was woken by a sharp prod in my chest. I ignored it, shifted in my seat and tried to go back to sleep. Another prod, accompanied by, “Wake up, mate! You’re snoring.” I opened my eyes and was startled to find myself looking at the face of the hairiest man I’d ever seen, six inches from mine. He had long, dark, frizzy hair and beard and looked like the lead singer of a 70s rock band. I got a whiff of his pungent odour and switched to breathing through my mouth instead of my nose.
“I’m Tor, pleased to meet you. I was hoping someone would sit here soon as these journeys can be really boring unless you’ve got someone to chat to,” he fidgeted while he spoke then smiled at me displaying yellow teeth.
“I’m sorry but I’m really tired and just need some sleep,” closing my eyes.
Tor ignored this and said, “I’ve invented time travel.”
My eyes flicked open in horror as I realised why these seats had been empty. I’d made the worst possible mistake on public transport and had sat opposite The Loony.
“Yeah, all those scientists have been working on it for years and I invented a time machine in my mate’s shed.”
I tried not to look directly at him, as you would the sun during an eclipse, but I’d engaged with him and now I was trapped.
“It’s not like the Tardis or that fancy machine from the film. Have a guess what it is.”
I sighed and realised he wasn’t going to let me sleep so I might as well have some fun, “A wardrobe, like the one that takes you to Narnia?”
“Nah mate, that’s a portal to another world not a time machine.”
“A cardboard box?”
“Nah, you’re not even trying.”
“A hat? A nice trilby?”
“Close but no cigar, mate.”
“I give up. What is it?”
“Shoes,” he said theatrically as he made a “ta dah” movement with his hands.
He nodded and grinned, displaying his nicotine stained teeth again.
“You’ve invented time travelling shoes?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. They’re a nice pair of trainers I got from a charity shop for two quid.”
“What did you do to them to make them travel in time?” I shouldn’t have carried on the conversation but he’d drawn me in and now I was intrigued. He was good, he was very good.
Tor looked around him to check no-one was listening then whispered louder than most people talk, “I painted them red.”
“What, like the ruby slippers?”
“Exactly, mate,” he cried clapping his hands together. “I knew you’d get it.”
“So, you click your heels together, say where and when you want to go and …”
“I’m whisked down a wormhole quicker than you can say Jack Sprat.”
“So where have you been? The Battle of Hastings or to witness the Big Bang?”
“Nah, somewhere much better.”
“Where?” I asked and actually leaned forward in my seat.
“The Tesco down the road from me last Wednesday.”
“What?” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, I’d missed the bus so didn’t get there in time to get the cheap meat and cakes. It would’ve been cold beans for a week if I hadn’t got down there.”
“Why don’t you use the shoes to better advantage? You know, put a bet on a surprise Grand National winner and make some money?”
“But that would be dishonest,” he said, with a shocked expression.
“Okay, okay, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Tickets please,” the inspector called out as he entered the carriage.
“Mate, I gotta scarper as I haven’t got a ticket.”
“Hang on, you just said…”
“No time mate, good talking to you,” Tor said as he clicked his heels and disappeared with a quiet pop.