For the past three years Christmas Eve had never changed. I had the same routine which consisted of this: finish work, say goodbye to my housemates, and head home. So, when I set out on a chilly Christmas Eve I didn’t expected anything different; I would be home in time for our family game of monopoly. That’s what I thought as I boarded the train in the middle of the afternoon. After squeezing past people who were probably as eager as me to get home, I found a seat next to a window and placed my suitcase between my legs. I grabbed out a book from my handbag and turned to chapter three. It was some adventure novel that my friend Meera gave to me as an early present. As my friend knows, I have the attention span of a fish, so books were not my thing. But, I promised her I would read it. Chapter 3: 30 more chapters to go. If this book doesn’t kill it will be a Christmas miracle.
Right, come on Irene, read chapter 3. You can do it. Just read the words; it’s as easy as eating a bowl of cornflakes, my favourite cereal. I tried to concentrate, but the conversations around me seemed a lot more interesting. Now, hear me when I say this: I am not an eavesdropper. But, this middle-aged couple, sitting opposite me, talked so loudly that I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that could hear them.
Searching through her bags, the lady looked at her husband (I spotted a sliver wedding band on her finger) and said, ‘we forgot to buy Julian’s present.’ Her husband grumbled and frowned and said, ‘are you sure? I know I packed it this morning.’ His wife shook her head and adjusted her glasses. ‘This is brilliant. Now’s she’s going to think that we forgot it on purpose. You know how she is. Maybe we should get off at the next stop and quickly get something?’ Her husband sighed and nodded reluctantly, and when the next stop arrived they jumped off. I smiled smugly to myself, because I had done my Christmas shopping weeks ago and didn’t forget a single thing. It felt like Christmas had a special liking for me because -and this might sound crazy- I had never had a bad Christmas Eve or day. Never. Don’t laugh, I’m telling the truth. Even when mum forgot to turn the oven on one Christmas, we still had dinner…at 10.00pm. Christmas and I were good pals, old buddies, chums, and this would stay the same this year. I would get home in time for festive cheer without unnecessary interruptions.
I had a new burst of energy and decided that today would be the day I read chapter three of this adventure novel. I was just about to fix my eyes on the page again when someone tapped my shoulder. I thought I imagined the thing, because, well, no one, unless they knew who you were, spoke to you on the underground. I guess it’s an unwritten rule very brave people break from time to time.
I looked up from my book and turned to see who had interrupted my not-so-interesting read. My glance was by met a pair of eyes equally as brown as mine.
‘You’re stuck on chapter three too? I thought I was the only one,’ said the guy and there was a warm smile on his face. Whoever said smiling was infectious was right, because before I knew it I was smiling too.
He held the book beside his face. We both had the same book, only different editions.
This was out of the ordinary, because speaking to random passages wasn’t my thing. All I wanted to do was get home and not talk about a book that I couldn’t get through. In spite of this, I placed my bookmark on chapter three and closed it. ‘I just can’t get pass chapter 3’, I said. ‘It’s not the book, it’s me.’
The guy laughed and shook his head. ‘I started reading it today, but I bought it months ago. There was so much hype about it, so I thought, hey, let me give it a go.’
‘You’re doing well then. I’ve been reading it for a month and I’m still stuck on the same page.’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘So you’re a slow reader too?’
‘No. I don’t think I have a good concentration span.’
‘You’re doing a good job with this conversation so far’, he said with a grin.
I tucked a piece of behind my ear, suddenly self-conscious. I was about to ask him whether he was going home for Christmas when the train halted and a voice boomed from the speakers. ‘Sorry for the delay. There is a temporary problem on the tracks. This train will be held here until future notice. We apologise for any inconvenience.’
People grumbled, tutted and glared at the invisible voice. This was typical of London transport, but I had never experienced it on Christmas Eve. I looked at my watch: it was 3.30pm. This meant that monopoly would start in half an hour. The rule was we wait for 15 minutes and then start the game. I could not miss it this year Christmas Eve monopoly, because I had to redeem myself from last year’s horrible defeat. This wasn’t the plan, and I disliked it when plans changed unexpectedly.
Random book guy groaned and checked his phone. ‘The worse thing about this is we can’t even contact anyone because there’s no darn signal’, he said.
‘Where are you supposed to be?’
‘Nowhere important’, he said. ‘It would just be nice to get home.’
‘I get what you mean. I’m dying for a game of monopoly with the family.’
The guy smiled and nodded.
‘You doing anything fun with your family?’
‘I’m might put on a nice movie or something.’
‘Oh, you’re family’s the movie type. That’s nice.’
He cleared his throat. ‘I guess so. Right, I better get back to chapter three.’
I let him get back to his book, but I couldn’t help but notice that the topic of family and Christmas dampened the mood. Strange, it was Christmas after all. Most people loved Christmas.
‘Okay. I’ll try and read it as well.’
Both of us turned back to our books and time passed by. Maybe it was twenty minutes or more; however, eventually a voice through the speakers announced that we were about to arrive on the platform. The guy next to me opened his side bag and placed his book inside.
‘Looks like this is my stop’, he said. There was a weary smile on his face and even I felt like we could go on talking for longer.
‘It was nice to meet you’, I said beaming up at him, a complete stranger. ‘Happy Christmas.’
‘Hey’, he began as the trained halted. ‘I know I’m a stranger, so feel free to reject my offer.’ He looked at me with a sheepish grin. ‘Why don’t we make a deal. If the both of us read up to chapter 15 by new years Eve, lets meet on this platform at this exact time. I need someone to listen to me rant about this book.’
He looked at me expectantly, with his brown eyes.
‘I won’t promise anything. We’ll see If I can I concentrate long enough to reach chapter 15 by next week.’
‘ Okay. I’ll see you around’, he said, and hopped of the train.
When winter struck I wasn’t expecting anything different; my Christmas Eve had been altered.
I opened my book and read quicker than ever.