The marvels of technology.
Brian would make the usual effort on his homeward train journey. He’d reach out in different ways to different people. But he knew he’d get the same-old reactions. A rare moment of politeness would be drowned out by everything from curtness to downright hostility. And copious indifference. He often wondered why he kept at it. Was it hope? Hardly. He knew better than that. Too many false-starts. Too much deceit.
The first person was an older man. Grandfather age. Had his phone in both hands; his eyes squinting at the screen.
Brian sat down beside him.
‘Hi, Brian is my name. What are you reading there?’
The man looked up from the screen.
Most of the time they pretended not to hear. But due to his age, Brian thought, perhaps this one was genuine.
‘I just asked what were you reading. On your phone, you know?’ said Brian, his voice raised for the man’s benefit; careful to show a pleasant smile. ‘Anything good?’
The man sought out those around him; his gaze moving from one to the other. That telltale display of distress.
Brian knew it was pointless to persist. He got to his feet and moved further on up the carriage.
Next up was a teenage girl. T-shirt and ripped jeans; a bag at her feet. She slouched against a metal pole in the open gangway area by the door. The way she held her phone out in front of her made it easy for Brian to see the screen. She thumbed through her facebook page; hitting the occasional like.
‘You like Ed Sheeran too?’ said Brian, nodding to the teenager’s phone. ‘I think he’s great. What’s your favourite song of his?’
Without offering any response – any acknowledgement whatsoever – she picked up her bag and headed off to the next carriage.
Brian reckoned that was the worst. It’s like he wasn’t even there.
Beside him, a woman with one hand on a stroller, scrolled through her twitter feed with the other.
‘Anything interesting?’ he said, pointing to her phone.
With her index finger she killed the screen.
At least she made the effort to sound polite, thought Brian. He’d give her that. But her glare told him that this wouldn’t end well. He persevered nonetheless.
‘Just thought we could chat.’ he said. ‘Anything going on with twitter today?’
She put her phone away, gripped the stroller with both hands and pulled it inwards.
‘No, it’s fine,’ she said. Her glance darted down to the stroller, then back to Brian. ‘Thank you. Goodbye now.’
That politeness; even if it was terse and strained. It was as close to civility Brian had come to in a long time.
He stepped closer.
‘It’s ok,’ he said. ‘I just . . . it’s just these damn phones, you know? Makes it hard for us to connect. How do you feel about it?’
‘Look Mister. I’m not sure what –.’
A man – early twenties; tall and broad – positioned himself in between Brian and the woman.
‘Leave her alone. Go on. Go.’
Brian followed the man’s instruction. He moved into the next carriage and waited by the door for his stop.
That was enough for today, he thought. He’d leave it for now. And try again tomorrow.