Our challenge this week was to write about eavesdropping. We do it always as writers, but usually just as listeners. Getting involved can have consequences. We had 1000 words, mine is just over 800.
An Unfortunate Habit
I couldn't help listening to the couple behind me, as they were speaking English, not Hungarian.
I’d blown most of my retirement bonus on this European trip, and was enjoying the scenery. It was much better than my cubicle back in Canada. However, everything over here was more basic, including this old train. And I found the currency, the language, the signs, all confusing. So, it was with relief that I sat back and listened to them talk. I smiled. If my brother were here, he’d scold me.
"Dave, you’re such a busybody, always trying to interfere in other’s lives," he’d say. "You know what they say about curiosity."
I’d heard my new neighbours get on sometime after Budapest, bickering constantly as they settled in behind me. It sounded like a man and a woman, one voice deep and gruff, the other quieter, timid.
"I told you, be sure to ask for a nice room," he said.
"I did dear," she said.
"Obviously not," he said. "That room was too small, with no air conditioning, a lumpy mattress, and decrepit old furniture."
"Sorry dear," she said. "I had asked. But . . . we’re not back home anymore, things are different.”
I had to agree with her on that.
His voice rose. "This whole trip has been a mess. You are so pathetic. I should have just left you at home. And now, all you can do is make excuses?"
There was a sniffle. "No, of course not. I’m sorry, I’ll try harder. The next place was really well reviewed online. Please, don’t be mad again."
There was a deep grumble, then silence. Just a little domestic tiff, I supposed. Being single all my life, I didn’t have much experience myself in those, but I was taught to respect women all the same. In the office, I’d been known as the nice quiet guy, with sometimes a bit too much curiosity. Nice and quiet was not that bad a label to be remembered by.
There was a bit of a draft from my window, letting in the cold mountain air. As I stood up to get my jacket from the overhead, I glanced at the couple behind me. He was definitely a big guy, with dark curly hair, a uni-brow, and a scowling face. Bundled up in a heavy wool red sweater that would have held two of me. She was petite, with blonde hair and a shy smile, and grey clothes that were positively mousy.
I smiled. "Everything okay back here now?"
He leaned forward. "What do you mean, now?"
"I’m sorry," I said. "I couldn’t help but—-"
"You could help it," he said. "Sit down old man, turn off your hearing aid and mind your own business."
His eyes were angry, hers were pleading.
I pulled on my jacket and sat down, ears burning. I’d only been trying to help.
He started up again, loud, obviously not really caring now if I heard.
"Now look what your whining has done," he said. "Stupid woman. Embarrassing me, in front of some old fart. You’re always messing up. That’s it, I’m done with you."
I hear a slap and a stifled cry. That was it. I slowly got up, turned, and made my way to the back, avoiding eye contact with either of them.
I found the conductor and was finally able to convey to him my concerns. He was probably even bigger than that terrible man and promised that he would not tolerate any rudeness or abuse on his train.
However, when we reached the couple, his manner changed. He bent over and smiled. "Excuse me sir, I hate to bother you, is everything okay?"
The bully was all smiles too, as he slipped what looked like an American twenty to the conductor,
"Certainly," he said. "No problems."
"But her face . . ." I said. There was a big red mark on her cheek.
She touched it and smiled. "Oh, just a rash I get. I fell asleep with it against my sweetie’s sweater. It always fades."
The conductor actually gave a little bow. "Of course, my apologies." He turned to me. "I suggest you return to your seat, sir, and keep to yourself."
I was too angry to sit down. Angry with them, and angry with myself. My brother was right, I meddled too much. I made my way forward to the vestibule between the cars. Luckily, you could still smoke there, unlike our trains back home.
I opened the top half of the door, lit a cigarette, and leaned out a bit to enjoy the fresh air. The view of the valley below was really quite breathtaking. Once I’d cooled down I’d go back, apologize, and maybe offer to pay for their dinner.
I felt a big hand on my shoulder and heard a familiar voice.
"Careful gramps, these are old trains. You never know when something like a door latch might give way."