She was the first thing Conor saw as he took his seat in the tube carriage.
Opposite him, but one seat down. He guessed she was around 25, Mediterranean looking with dark-brown hair to her shoulders. She was wearing black jeans, suede boots and a white blouse. On her lap was an expensive-looking handbag with gold clasps.
She was gorgeous. He tried not to look, but with the remainder of the carriage populated by tired-looking men and a Caribbean lady the size of a generous armchair, it was impossible. Conor took off his bag and glanced again. In fractions of a second, his mind had performed a series of equations.
The hair plus physical poise equaled class. The designer-bag minus ostentatious label, equalled style. Her bee-sting lips, times her body, plus Conor’s imagination, equalled sex squared.
He waited till she was looking away and stole another furtive glance. About a size 12, thought Conor. Fleshy. Her jeans were full and tight, curving wide around her hips. He guessed a C-Cup: (he was normally good at that). She looked confident, carnally adventurous. He imagined her being open about her needs, her kinks and impatient with poor lovers.
“If you were her boyfriend”, Conor thought, “you’d have to be on your toes. And I will be…”
In a split second, he imagined her in his world: together at an art house cinema, hugging each other in the mud at a music festival, standing naked in his kitchen whistling a Smiths tune and making coffee.
Suddenly, the girl looked up and into Conor’s eyes. They were big, brown and kept his gaze for the longest four seconds of his life. Electricity shot across the carriage like sheet lightning. When she turned away, he felt his chest tighten and a hot prickling sensation wash across his face.
“Shit, this is on!” he thought, “OK, OK, OK. Be cool. It’s imperative to not look too keen”.
Conor attempted to look as bored as his limited acting talent would allow. He fiddled with his phone and feigned interest in the vagaries of the Northern Line map, before letting his eyes fall on her again.
His imagination raced into fifth gear. A Kama Sutra of fantasies raced through his mind. Their sex life would shatter the commandments in a weekend. Every post-coital conversation would be punctuated by kisses and replete with shared values, humour and hopes. This moment would be the anecdote they would bore their kids with. He saw her ten years from now smiling at him across the living room of their family home.
“We were destined to meet, weren’t we, darling? Tell them how!”.
“Oh, not the tube story again, Dad!!”
His future wife glanced up again and into his eyes. It was like being kicked in the kidneys by the Venus de Milo. Conor could hardly breathe: she was perfect, she was the one, this was it!
He was just working out how he could start a conversation with her without looking like a pervert, when the girl reached into her bag and took out a small piece of coloured card: a beaded necklace coiled around it. Conor watched as she picked off the price sticker with a nail and rolled it between her fingers before dropping it in her bag.
“Tidy as well”, he thought, “this one’s definitely a keeper”
She carefully detached the necklace from the card. Then, after uncoiling it, held it in her fist, brought it her lips and kissed it.
The girl then made the sign of the cross, bowed her head and began silently mouthing some words.
Conor felt himself freeze, then deflate as surely as if a valve had been opened on his backside.
“A rosary! She’s a Catholic!”, he thought. “Bloody devout as well!”
His mind could barely countenance the betrayal. He stared, open-mouthed at his former wife-to-be, now lost in her devotions.
“Actually, scrap devout. Saying prayers on the tube: she’s a borderline nutter”.
His imagination raced again, this time down a sexless avenue of wheedling pettiness. He saw her condescending frown on hearing bad language, her hatred of his small, but extensive porn collection. He saw her tight-lipped distaste of gay marriage and the drawers of her dressing table filled with boring knickers.
Conor glanced again. The girl’s eyes were closed and her lips, un-kissable now, muttered silently, blowing delicate kisses to God. He guessed she was Spanish, they were big on the old Jesus thing.
He imagined her unsmiling Catalonian mother; crooked, black clad and with a face like a tanned scrotum. He saw her achingly handsome brothers: sexual hypocrites who shagged anything that moved but who’d nail your balls to a lamp-post if you so much as looked at their ‘pequena hermana’.
The girl opened her eyes and caught his gaze. Conor looked away. Her looks were a judgement now, they always had been. God, these people were so superior.
The train slowed to a stop and Conor got up and left the carriage without looking back.
Helena watched him go and allowed herself a smile. Her fingers began on a new decade of beads and she mouthed three more prayers to Mary, Mother of God. Each one, to ask forgiveness for the impure and salacious thoughts she’d had about that sweet, kind-looking boy who’d looked her way.