The long-faced ginger man opposite glances at my book title over his glasses.
I glance at his.
He’s also reading Calvino.
We both glance up and glance hurriedly away.
We sit for ten minutes on the train absorbed in our separate worlds. The reader of Calvino does not communicate to the reader of Calvino, except in terms of admiration of their joint idol. There is no room for discussion. It’s so rare to find a compatriot that criticism is restrained and smug warmth is silently shared.
That said, I felt the itch. I hadn’t actually seen which book he was reading. Of course, it was immaterial, we shared the fraternity of Calvino. But still, not all Calvino was brilliant; I wanted to see which book he was reading. He might not be a Reader, a true Calvinist, but just have picked it up and not be enjoying it. He could even be, Italo forbid, hating it! He could be hating me! If I could see the book title, I could find out. He couldn’t hate If On A Winter’s Night but I could understand boredom segueing into loathing at The Baron in the trees. Finding out wouldn’t necessarily alter my opinion of him one way or another, just give me more material for various hypotheseses. A quick glance should tell me.
But the train was pulling into Paddington. I duck and dived my head as much as I could, decorum willing, in a crowded train carriage. I couldn’t catch the name, the angle and the font obscured it and his hands were all over the front of the book. He stood to go and I caught a glimpse of the colours of the cover; greens, browns or reds I thought, which narrowed it down not at all.
And then he was out, speed-strutting down the platform edge, teetering outside the yellow line. I grabbed my clutter and strode after him, down short platform 14, past the gradually accreting stalagmites, through the lengthy stumbling crowds on long platform 12, past the giant Paddington bear in the lost property office and the curious wailing shutters of the staff area, around the bollards and tape, slaloming columns. I lost him behind a wall of dark coats in the underground, and felt immediately ashamed for chasing him at all.
A man who I don’t know, couldn’t care about, who I would never talk to whatever the outcome, produced all this in me by a significant glance, which might even have been unintentional. Rather, I produced this in myself by caring about Calvino more than I should and falling into a world like his. If on a spring morning, a traveller…