It was a cold morning, but, out of the shower and hurrying to get ready, it was perfect for a brisk walk to the train station at the top of the hill. Just outside the entrance, beside the Jehovah’s Witnesses—who stood stiff & straight as flagpoles either side of a leafletted display—was a man in a thick coat and fur collar, sweet thick plumes of vapour carried out of his mouth by the wind. Catching just the side of his face, I contemplated pretending I had not seen him—it is something I do often; too timid or lazy to engage, preferring to keep to myself, save the energy of conversation—however that morning, for a reason I cannot pinpoint, I instead went—‘All right, W——.’ It took a moment for him to understand who was greeting him, then he cursed in exclamation and asked why I was not wearing a coat. We walked into the station together as he pocketed his vape. He asked me what I was doing there. ‘I live here now… since… November twenty-one.’ I was an unusual sight for him at that time of the morning. We passed through the barriers and up the stairs—although not with my regular speed, for I had never seen him walk faster than ‘leisurely’—whereupon we—both of us, I suspected—considered our options of separating or spending the journey together. ‘I go down this end,’ I told him—‘It’s quieter.’ And he followed.
    Seventeen years ago, he and I used to drink together in The Bull just off B——. Three or four nights a week we would go there after work, opposite our office. The office is gone now (hotel) but the pub remains. My uncle was landlord there back in the seventies, although he now, unpoetically, has a problem with drink on account of compulsory retirement from the railways. We stood with our pints on the sill, a hundred-layers-of-paint thick, original glass or busted once upon a time but single-glazed, chain-smoked, always had something or other to say because some people you just resonate against. We hated and loved each other; a strange relationship; both of us diverse yet drinking the same beer, drunk at different times, hungover simultaneously. There were other men who drank with us but they had partners until they did not have partners, and then they would be drinking down the pub with us again. Colleagues then drinking partners then friends. There were others down the pub, too: a handsome Welsh hairdresser with hair like black ice cream, two large lesbians draped in gold jewellery, the Italian restauranteur, various passers-by, local transients doing the rounds and a Chinese woman selling pirated DVDs. Returning home drunk, and a few hours later I was on the train back to the office. I could stomach it then, my body was younger, organs fresher, my will slightly peppier.
    He and I sat diagonally in the booth. The rest of the carriage politely silent, silently polite but for he and I talking, a sin I would have to seek atonement for. It was cold beyond as fluorescent rectangles of gold passed over our slouching. We spoke of our lives. He did not live so far away from me—relatively speaking—in a little village his wife had learned to fall in love with. He had two sons. His wife ran a children’s clothing shop and now she knew all the people in the village and was involved with the school and did not want to leave, so he stayed there with her. He grumbled, but he always grumbled, a part of his charm, a given. He complained, yes, but he seemed at peace. He had softened in his forties.
    We spoke quietly but we chuckled and coughed, we swore, we were sober.
    ‘The young people today,’ I said—‘they don’t go out drinking. They go down the gym. Or they get their hair cut or their nails done. No one drinks anymore like we used to. They’re all healthy. It’s fucking disgusting.’
    ‘So, you with anyone?’ he asked.
    If you are in a relationship, you do not think about that question at all; if you are single, you think about that question too much.
    ‘Ah,’ he said—‘best way to be… Enjoy it!’ And he began to curse the large dog his wife had come home with, but I knew him well enough to recognise he loved the dog; he just wanted me to feel a bit better. Marriage and fatherhood had tempered him. Were others listening in to our conversation? Everybody was sleepy and their tilted phones flickered in the early sun; they caught your eye and you turned your head. He did, however, speak with a strong accent and a quiet voice, an aversion to consonants, gravel, it turned strangers off, away. He told me about his neighbour who liked to drink with him but was an odd man who was sending money to some woman in Sweden; I was his normal option; we should go for a drink sometime. It was us outside The Bull and the conversation like an open tap. I smiled to myself—the thought of walking away! My mother always scolded me for dodging old friends. He was swallowed whole by the fur collar as he talked about house prices and tired himself out. I asked him about his cars but they had all been sold long ago as he looked to raise a family; then he told me how much they were worth and the price of petrol. It was all Japanese. I told him I still could not drive; he expected nothing less, as though it were just a part of my personality, forever incomprehensible.
    How many times had I done that walk down the platform at Liverpool street, where the bins rotted beneath a corrugated dawn trembling thinly through a mist of lichen? We parted in the middle of the concourse, back where we used to during the great crash in amongst the echoes and announcements. We said we would have to meet up for a drink sometime.