This is the seventh and final post on my Brussels trip (wow, I really know how to drag these things out). The first post came be found here.
I’d said goodbye Brussels. It had been a great trip, but it was time to head home. Only minutes after the train had departed, I was nose-deep in my book. But, as I was settling back into the tales of America’s Depression-era Deep South, I was suddenly dragged back to reality by the discordant sounds of some incoherent singing.
I occupied a window seat. Besides me was an empty seat. Across the aisle was a respectable-looking man in his forties. Besides him was a young guy in his early-twenties. He was holding a games console from which explosions and gunfire were loudly emanating. He had a row of Jack Daniels and cokes lined up in front of him. He also had on a giant pair of headphones. I smirked to myself as he obliviously sang along to whatever song it was he was enjoying (even if I knew the song, I don’t think I’d have been able to recognise his, ahem, ‘rendition’).
The respectable man next to him also had a smirk on his face. We exchanged amused glances. I overhead someone a few rows further forward ask a friend where all the noise was coming from. A Meer cat-like peek over the seats was followed by more exchanged smirks after spotting the guy enthusiastically, and tunelessly, singing along.
I returned to my book. A few minutes later a woman appeared and placed her bag on the seat beside me. After her exchanges with the middle-aged guy opposite, I concluded that she was his wife. I assumed her seat had been allocated elsewhere. After realising that the seat next to me was unoccupied she decided to move, and began placing her luggage in the overhead compartment. After a few more words with her husband she settled down next to me and began reading her magazine. Once settled she also noticed the tuneless singing. She looked at the young guy, looked at her husband exchanged a brief titter and a few words before returning to her magazine. This is where she should have left things, but, no, she made the fatal mistake. A minute or so later she leaned across the aisle and said to the budding soprano, “We’re enjoying your singing.”
She didn’t say it churlishly, she was just being friendly. But the music was too loud for the young guy to hear. He lifted his headphones and asked what she’d said. After she explained, he looked surprised. “What, can you hear that?” he asked, much to my amusement. Half the damn carriage could hear it. After receiving bemused confirmation he explained that he’d assumed everyone would have headphones on and wouldn’t be able hear him. I found this naively optimistic, but fair enough. They exchanged a few more pleasantries. The husband, meanwhile, looked on smiling, but not genuinely. I could see the look of panic in his eyes. It was a look directed at his wife. It was a look that said “Why are you talking to the crazy person?” I could sympathise. I could see exactly how this was going to pan out.
The soprano then began chatting to the husband. The wife added a few comments, before casually returning to her magazine. The journey was two and a half hours long. And, just as I suspected, after striking up the conversation, that particular genie was not going back in the bottle. The husband was forced to spend the entire journey enduring the young guy chatting at him about everything and anything. You couldn’t really have chosen two more opposite characters. The husband was quiet, conservative, middle-class, well-spoken, well-dressed and too polite to disengage the conversation. The young guy was loud, brash, outgoing and with a slightly ‘street’ and ‘rudeboy’ demeanour.
Every time I took a break from my book and looked around I felt sorry for the husband. He had no escape from the verbal diarrhoea and inane discussions about things he clearly had no interest in. He spent the whole journey looking awkward and uncomfortable, but the young guy didn’t pick up on the negative body language. He also didn’t pick up on the clear clues behind the short and uncommitted “Oh”s and “Yeah”s that were occasionally punctuated by polite, but unconvincing chortles. The young guy just continued to obliviously broadcast his half of their conversation to the whole carriage while the husband sat and looked self-conscious.
The wife, meanwhile, sat and quietly enjoyed her magazine. I occasionally glanced at her with amusement. It was obvious that her husband was silently cursing her and thinking “Why did you have to speak to him? Couldn’t you have just left him to his tuneless singing?” She appeared completely unaware of the trauma she’d inflicted.
I later wondered if he’d ever explained to her his side of the story; although, he struck me as the kind of person who would have resignedly sighed and let it go, much like he did to his uncomfortable two and a half hour journey.