The Inklings: Chapter 24

On Tuesday morning D’arby was in a rush to catch his train but John was taking ages in the bathroom. “Hurry up!” yelled D’arby and he banged on the bathroom door. There was no answer and ten minutes later John was still in the shower so D’arby decided he’d have to leave without having a shower or cleaning his teeth. It also meant that he couldn’t pack his toothbrush. D’arby left an angry goodbye note on the table for John and walked to the station. He was going to go and stay with his sister for a few days. She was staying with Ark, who happened to live in what sounded like a hippie commune – it was a community owned farm next to a river. Jinabu said it was a beautiful place, but had also mentioned that only two of the houses there had electricity (and Ark’s house wasn’t one of them). To get there D’arby had to take an eight hour train trip and then catch a bus to the closest town, where Ark would pick him up.

D’arby had only just found his seat on the train when the guard announced that the train was about to depart and that only “intending passengers” should remain on the train. D’arby took a red pen and some reading material out of his backpack (a draft of a thesis chapter, some scientific papers on psychopaths and the notes he hadn’t been able to read out at the meeting the night before) then put his back-pack on the luggage rack above his head and started thinking about what had happened the night before.

As soon as John had seen Vincent he’d wanted to leave Syafika’s place. John walked home at such a pace that D’arby couldn’t keep up. Not long after John and D’arby got home Fanta rang John to tell him what Syafika had just called to tell her – that Vincent had seemed more jealous than suspicious. Fanta didn’t pass on that Vincent had also ordered Syafika to keep away from John and D’arby though. John was relieved by this news, but had still had trouble sleeping, which was why he’d needed to have an incredibly long “wake-up shower” in the morning.

Although D’arby resented Vincent for having broken up their meeting he wasn’t upset that he hadn’t been able to talk about his ideas for saving the world because he thought they needed more polishing. He hoped that on the long train trip he’d be able to write something for the next meeting that he’d be proud of.

At the first stop D’arby’s plans for a productive journey were destroyed when the person who’d booked the seat next to him got on the train. At first things didn’t look too bad – the young man smiled and then sat down next to D’arby and got out a book. The book turned out to be just a prop though. The man pretended to be reading it, but was really trying to read over D’arby’s shoulder. This made D’arby uncomfortable. He put his plans for saving the world away and tried to read through his thesis chapter instead, but his neighbour seemed just as interested in his thesis – he didn’t speak though.

When the buffet car opened D’arby decided to go and see whether they sold toothbrushes or anything else that might take away his bad breath. When he came back with chewing gum, toast (John would be proud) and a very strange tasting coffee D’arby noticed that his neighbour was now wearing headphones and had a sheepish look on his face.

D’arby ate his breakfast and enjoyed looking out the window. He decided it might be better to spend the trip thinking rather than reading and writing, but his neighbour had other plans. He walked off somewhere and when he came back he had a guitar with him. D’arby and anyone else in the carriage who had seen this hoped in vain that this didn’t mean they were about to be treated to some music.

D’arby’s neighbour folded up the arm rest that separated their seats to make room for the guitar and began to play. First it was just some quiet strumming. D’arby would have been able to find this amusing if he wasn’t embarrassed that everyone in the carriage was looking at him as well as his neighbour. D’arby wished he was wearing a T-shirt that had an arrow pointing towards the seat next to him with the writing “I’m not with him” and thought about making a sign. Then the guitar man began to sing, quietly at first, but as he became more and more entranced by the music his singing got louder and louder. People started muttering – telling him to shut up. Some even complained to D’arby that he should ask his neighbour to shut up. Then a woman walked off in a huff towards the buffet car and not long after one of the train conductors came along and asked the guitar man to be quiet. This worked for about five minutes, but then the man started gently strumming his guitar again, and the music eventually escalated as it had done before.

The next time the conductor came back he brought with him the largest member of the train staff (the man who had made D’arby’s strange coffee). The guitar man was made to put his guitar back on the luggage rack at the end of the carriage. He tried to sit still and be good but it seemed to be making him itchy. He began to scratch his scalp, then his face, shoulders, arms and hands. The itchiness must have spread to his back because he spent a while writhing around trying to reach the middle of his back. Then his feet became itchy and he had to take off his shoes and socks. Watching the guitar man scratch himself made D’arby feel itchy too, and he wasn’t the only one. He noticed that other passengers were beginning to scratch itches too. The couple sitting behind D’arby started to discuss whether someone might have let loose some fleas. The guitar man must have had enough. He let out a scream “Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” and got up, then came back with his guitar and the music soon started again. At the next stop two police officers forced guitar man off the train.

As the train pulled away from the station where the guitar man was arguing with the police, D’arby assembled his pile of reading material again and found that one of his papers on psychopaths and his plans for saving the world were missing.

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