‘Men!”, my travelling companion snorted.
It was her first remark since I had joined her in the train’s Ladies Only compartment, boarding, as I had, at a rural halt with a single island platform. I had thought such stations and compartments to have long since vanished from British Rail. There was a sense of travelling in time, as well as in space. Glancing down at my hem, I was almost surprised to see the short skirt in which I’d set out that morning, rather than the floor-sweeping fashion of Edwardian times.
“Men!”, she repeated loudly, seeming to demand a response.
“Men?”, I asked diffidently.
“Yes – great ugly brutes. Their skin grows a horrible hairy rind. Every day they peel it off with sharp blades, only to have it regrow by night.”
I smiled. Her reply, seemed to suppose that I, of all people, didn’t know what men were.
“Not all of them”, I ventured placidly.
“Not all of what, what?”
“Not all men peel off their hairy rind. Some have beards.”
“Tush, child! Do not speak of them! They’re the worst… All are rapists… And some are…”
“It is best that one of your tender years does not know. Indeed, I’ve already said too much. I should not have mentioned men at all… Not in your hearing, anyway”
“Why not in MY hearing in particular?” I suddenly must have looked more my age with a hint of a frown, since she evidently now intended to take me into her full confidence. She leant forward, as if there were someone else ear-wigging. The mouth hypnotised me with the way it spoke.
“Men, my dear, are foul-mouthed creatures who do not rightfully belong on Mother Earth.” She sat back with a flourish.
I nodded, despite thinking her proposition ludicrous. Being alone together with someone in a corridorless train does carry with it the responsibility of tact and diplomacy.
“Well,” she resumed, leaning forward again, “even as recent as Edwardian days, there had only been ladies in the world. Till these aliens came from outer space with their coiled arrangements below their bellies. They brainwashed most of us to believe that they had always been here and that we actually needed them. They called themselves ‘men’ for short”.
The train was drawing into Norwood Junction alongside two platforms which enabled egress from either side of the carriages. A close shave, I thought, as I stumbled from the Ladies Only compartment…into a lady in high fashion gloves who was simultaneously embarking. She was no doubt en route for Victoria Station (my own original destination). I gave her a warning look, my eyes swivelling to that lady in the corner with the strange ideas. The warning went unnoticed, perhaps consciously unheeded, even relished.
As I scoured the timetable for the next train to Victoria (changing my mind half way by looking for the arrival of the next train bound for Brighton), I tugged down my skirt which was trying to ride even higher up my thighs. I was afraid of what it would otherwise reveal.
Peter F.Jeffrey and D.F.Lewis