Alfred was a precise man and a regular commuter. As he walked up the platform that morning, his head moved with sudden, angular movements not unlike a pigeon. As if to mock him, one of those very creatures had taken the opportunity to defecate on the collar of his otherwise pristine waxed jacket. He arrived at the exact same spot on which he always stood and glanced at his watch. He noted with inward satisfaction as the second hand ticked over at the usual time.
He was of an age whereby his chin had begun its slow retreat inwards and his jowls had loosened their grip on the sides of his face. His wire rimed silver spectacles looped around oversized ears and on his crown was a thick mop of pure white hair. He glanced at the boards showing the status of the next train and gave an almost imperceptible smile as he saw that it was on time. His broadsheet newspaper was folded into quarters and tucked beneath his arm.
After precisely three minutes, the train loomed into view and slowly came to a halt. Unusually, the doors did not line up exactly with Alfred’s position and to his annoyance, he had to shuffle half a step to bring himself level with the door. The doors swished open and because few commuters made the journey this early, he easily found a seat inside the carriage. He reached inside his pocket and pulled out an expensive looking pen and turned the newspaper over to show the cryptic crossword.
He prided himself on completion of the crossword every morning before the end of his half hour train ride. Before long, he had filled out a quarter of the answers. As he looked up in deep thought about his next clue, he noted the young lady who boarded behind him was sat nearby. Coincidentally, she was attempting the very same puzzle. At first, he was pleased to see that the hobby was being taken up by the younger generation and was not about to die out. Then he noticed with unintentional annoyance that the young lady had completed half of the crossword already.
He managed to crack the next few clues and before too long, he had caught up with the young lady. He couldn’t help but glance across again. She had completed nearly three quarters of the puzzle now. She caught his gaze and smiled. He awkwardly flashed an embarrassed smile back to her before returning his attention to the crossword.
With five minutes to go before they arrived at his stop, Alfred had completed every answer except one. As he sucked on his pen in deep thought – he saw that the young lady had completely filled her crossword in and was gazing out of the window. Even as the train arrived at the terminus, Alfred had still not cracked the final clue. He could not remember the last time he had failed to finish the crossword before the end of his journey.
Once again, his gaze caught the completed crossword on the chair opposite, abandoned now as the girl was gathering her things in preparation to leave the train. She turned towards him and as their eyes locked, she gave him another smile and a cheeky wink. Alfred’s face flushed and he immediately looked away.
He waited for her to step down on to the platform before gathering his things. He almost walked past the completed crossword before curiosity got the better of him. He simply had to know what that last answer was. With a furtive look around him to make sure no-one was looking, he picked up the newspaper. Within moments, he rolled his eyes as he realised that the girl had simply filled in random words rather than working out the answers. He smiled as he stepped from the train shaking his head.