Another normal day, another normal commute, and I’ve got my normal standing spot by the bin-seat, a useful substitute for when my legs start to give way should one of those very-rare, nearly-never-happen, but-when-they-do-they-take-ages delays occur.
And as normal, there’s a latecomer making a desperate lunge for the closing door, having over-slept or poorly planned, and now having the eyes of the carriage watching him, secretly hoping he doesn’t quite make it, to see if he pretends he didn’t want to catch it anyway.
Annoyingly, he just sneaks in through the tiniest of gaps. But rather than the usual sequence of hypocritical tuts, frowns, and head-shaking from people who did exactly the same five minutes ago, there’s silence. Absolute silence.
This latecomer isn’t a celebrity, a hipster, or a screaming child. This late comer is much worse. Flashy yellow and black clothing, no regard for personal space, and unlikely to have paid for a ticket. But given he’s only 3cm long and has the ability to attack and kill any of us at any moment, we’ll probably let him off.
An underlying panic ripples across the train as the reality of the situation seeps in. The doors are shut, there’s no windows to open. We’re in this together until Denham Golf Club at least. The severity of the situation leads to semi-communication – a series of nods, half-smiles, and eyebrow raises – as the visitor makes his way through the carriage to find a vacant spot.
All eyes are transfixed on his progress as he moves towards Holly Headphones, standing up, holding on, and blissfully unaware of the evil heading her way.
He slows, hovers, then lands gently on her drumstick fingers.
As one, the carriage gasps, sucking in all the air available, leaving just a vacuum of fear.
She hasn’t noticed. We’re wide-eyed and transfixed, preparing to witness a murder, refusing to break the commuter vow of silence even in this potential life-or-death situation, but hoping that staring very hard will somehow help Holly to notice the danger she’s in.
But this isn’t her time to go, and with the slightest flick of her finger, in time with the music we can all hear, she sends the would-be killer on his way. Air is restored to the carriage, mixed with mild laughter and ‘that was close’ eyebrow raises.
Usual service resumed. People start to relax. You should never relax in this situation.
We’ve lost sight of him in our collective relief
He reappears on Larry Laptop’s legs, whose fingers are typing furiously to complete a Very Important Email that must be sent this early in the morning. Upper body focussed on the job in hand, lower body breakdancing and eventually kicking the enemy across the carriage.
He starts the long climb up Peter Pinstripe’s well-pressed trousers, onto his shirt (past the Economist he’s pretending to read), onto his tie past the phone he’s actually playing Candy Crush on, and then onto his face, drawing an instant reaction of Bohemian Rhapsody head-banging followed by a firm but fair flick.
The world moves in slow motion. The finger flick connecting with the assailant’s head. A nod of approval from the onlookers hoping this has finished the ordeal. A simultaneous noticing of both its trajectory and the tiny gap that’s appeared between the buttons of my shirt. A brief thought of how incredibly unlucky that would be for the creature to hit that exact spot. A longer moment of panic as it gets closer.
It’s in my shirt.
IT’S IN MY SHIRT.
My brain quickly calculates the options available to me:
a) Rip shirt off
b) Be stung repeatedly whilst pretending there’s nothing happening
c) Curl up on floor and cry
All options would mean moving to a new house and never travelling on this train line again. So I deploy the reach-and-scoop technique.
Reach in, scoop out. Reach in, scoop out. Reach in, and Oh Please God Let This Thing Fall Out Because Everyone Is Watching And Option C Is Suddenly Looking More Appealing. Scoop out.
He’s gone. Where’s he gone? Is he out, or am I about to die? I’m panicking, flailing around. I need help, serious help. I’m considering repeatedly punching my own stomach in case he’s still in there. I need a hero. Almost anyone will do.
Just as quickly as it started, it’s over. My hero emerges and, oh God, it’s Stephen the Schoolboy. Anyone but him. He shows no mercy, to either the wasp or my pride, a stamp-and-wipe finishing move perfected on the playground. A look, a raised eyebrow, and a quick photo of his victim to share with his army of followers desperate to hear about his heroics. You win this time, Stephen.
Slight shock sweeps around the carriage. That’s it, it’s over. The ordeal is over. We can go back to not speaking, not communicating. And it’s good the wasp is dead, too.