Minny gingerly stepped off the train and took her crutches from the conductor. She thanked the woman, who’d helped her when she transferred to this little branch line and had been solicitous ever since. She cursed her accident and the grey plastic boot she had to wear. Bang went any chance of making an impression.
There was no ticket barrier at this small, bleak Shropshire station. The wind whipped across the almost empty platform and the car park beyond. No-one was there to collect tickets.
The journey had seemed endless. Stops every ten minutes and just one or two people getting on or off each time. There was no buffet car and she’d been too nervous to have breakfast. She’d made do with a Mars Bar pocketed at Temple Mead’s branch of WH Smith. She’d never stolen anything before. But she hadn’t felt hungry for breakfast at all (anxiety? excitement?) and waiting for the early afternoon train she’d given in to temptation. The instruction had been “come in the clothes you stand up in. Bring your phone and nothing else”. She had taken that literally.
She looked down the platform and hobbled toward the gap in the chain-link fencing. She wasn’t the only person who’d got off this far from anywhere. There was a guy in a cap with a dog and four other women. One she’d shared a carriage with. She’d looked up from her phone several times to notice the other woman staring at her. She’d been texting her boyfriend.
She explained she’d be out of touch for a few days. He’d seemed relieved rather than anxious, or even interested. He’d been like that for a while. Since his last visit to Bristol back in November she thought: things had cooled pretty quickly since he went back tolive with his mum and dad after uni. ended.
The other women who’d got off the train she’d not seen before – well not since Bristol, where one, an untidy blonde in a short denim skirt had barged past her, shoving Minny into an old guy overburdened with his wife’s clothes shopping.
They were all looking at her though – and at each other – The guy strode off, his dog tidily at his heel and she was left with, she presumed, her competitors. “No chance” she thought.
The girl who had spent the journey watching Minny looked a little older than her, maybe late twenties. Minny thought she was genuinely beautiful. Dark denim skinny jeans, Ugg boots and the longest hair Minny had seen in a while. Brown, but not drab like hers, glossy, shiny, it hung in a single rope plait over her left shoulder, as thick as Minny’s arm at the top, the plait descended past the girl’s waist. She was playing nervously with the end of it. Minny saw that, like her, but unlike any of the other women, she had no bag of any sort.
Teetering on the highest of platform heels was the barging blonde – who now towered head and shoulders over Minny. She swore that woman had been in flats when she’d sent Minny skittering. She had – she could see the leopard print toes peeking from the top of her bag. She was still a barger – she shoved past Minny and the third woman, who could have passed for a junior solicitor, but perhaps from a few decades ago. Her suit looked like it had come out of a 40’s movie: Minny watched the woman very deliberately sashay in front of her, each buttock rising and falling. The seams of her stockings descending below the hem of the nayy blue pencil skirt were impeccably straight. Her stilettos were black, patent courts of a conservative height. But, boy – could she move. Minny found herself wanting to see the lingerie, at least, under the suit and blouse. She inadvertently licked her lips.
The third woman was the oldest there.
Descending from the other end of the train and already almost opposite the gap in the fence, she wore black from head to foot. A mane of artfully curled “this just ain’t natural” jet black hair framed a tanning shop addict’s face with lips red enough to spot the pout from a considerable distance. Her leather jacket was open and no bra was being worn: the woman’s breasts lay pert on the shelf of a black velvet under-bust corset with a row of chrome fastenings across the busk. She twisted and Minny formed the view that there was probably nothing being worn under the leggings either, the way Ms Black’s buttocks were displayed, curved and separate below the neatly laced corset. Patent ankle boots, again with considerable heels, made her small, globular buttocks even more emphatic. Minnie appreciated the constant effort it must take to keep a body like that. Long red nails curled round the handle of a pull-along vanity case. Even the barging blonde stopped to let her through. As the sound of the departing train fell away all you could hear was the sound of her heels, and her wheels, trapping and trundling over the gravel towards a big black Jaguar, one of only four or five cars parked there, all of which appeared driverless.
The woman Minny thought might be candidate number five had stepped off the train and lit up a cigarette straightaway. She looked as nervous as Minny felt. She also looked about sixteen. She wore trainers, black leggings and a grey hoodie. One ear glinted with silver studs curving right round the lobe. She had another in her nose. The cigarette was a roll-up. She blew a thin stream of smoke at the grey sky.
Minny knew they must all be there for the same reason as her. She wasn’t going to be what this guy wanted, she could see that straight away. Not compared to them. She thought of getting the next train back to Bristol – even though that meant a cold December afternoon kicking her heels on this uncovered platform in the middle of nowhere. But she had no money and no ticket. She had no choice. She told herself she’d learn something, she’d get fed, she’d get (she’d been told) put back on the train on Sunday night. Maybe she’d get laid. Maybe she was screwed.
With the others she walked off the platform and into the car park.