Stan took out his pocket watch and tapped it. Dead. He glanced at the small number of blank faces dotted around the railway carriage and tried to catch someone’s eye. Nobody looked up. He coughed apologetically. The stony-faced woman closest to him shifted in her seat.
A whisper of a man jerked his body towards him and frowned.
“Just wondered what time it was?”
The tiny man held up all of his bony fingers and pushed them against the air.
“Ah. Ten. Thank-you. My watch has given up today.”
Stan made a strangled attempt at laughter. The man grimaced and shrugged.
Their eyes slid down again after that exchange. Stan felt in his pocket for the rainbow letter and felt a tremor of something he couldn’t recall ever feeling before. He looked out at the grey sky, the grey fields, the grey houses and strained to catch even a whisper of colour. Nothing. There was only one thing to do: sleep. And everybody knew, you only dream in black and white.
He was jerked awake when the train screamed to a stop. He looked for the thousandth time at the address on the letter and wondered if anyone would be animated enough to give him directions. Maybe a child?
He stepped back to let a woman out in front of him. She tutted and marched on. When he reached the gate out of the railway station he looked up and down the quiet street. Then he heard a rhythmic pounding behind him. He swung round, looked down and came face to face with a young boy bouncing a ball against the ground and holding a bubble the size of his little head he had blown out with strong-smelling gum. They both looked at the bubble. The boy had defiance in his eyes as he looked at Stan. Stan had an unnerving desire to pop it.
“Can you tell me where to find this address please?”
The bubble deflated as its blower took the paper from Stan. He nodded, turned on his heel and beckoned for Stan to follow. Now Stan had not exercised in a long time. But as the boy picked up pace he had no choice but to throw his legs after him. As he stumbled, galloped and tripped along, Stan felt water coming into his eyes and a rush of cold air in his ears. He was gasping and sweating but he was also tingling. When his guide stopped abruptly Stan grabbed his shoulders to stop himself from falling. They felt just like his son’s.
“You gotta let go of me mister. This is the place.”
Stan lifted his hands off and stared at the boy, as if in a dream. He pulled himself together,
He felt in his pockets but remembered that they hadn’t been filled with sweets for years.
“I’m sorry, son, I have nothing to give you.”
The boy looked confused,
“Sure why would you?”
Stan realised that the act of thanking someone was long forgotten now.
“What’s your name?”
“Well, thank-you Aaron. For showing me the way.”
Aaron frowned and spat out his gum, throwing it over the fence.
Stan started to put out his hand and then withdrew it. Another greeting not used anymore. He turned to face the door, taking stiff steps towards it. He pressed his ear against it, was that music? Or birds? He looked round but Aaron was already in the distance. Closing his eyes he took a deep breath and knocked.