Eve finished work and walked down to the tube station, exactly as she had done a thousand times or more. She went through the barriers, along the halls, and down the stairs in the flow of her fellow commuters. Her shoulder-bag’s strap briefly snagged on another commuter’s backpack in a particularly busy walkway. She disengaged it with her free hand in almost a reflex action, without even raising her eyes. Eve moved on, barely hearing the man apologise. Further along, she emerged into the crowded anti-climax of the platform. Hundreds of commuters were waiting, but there was hardly any sound. The scoreboard indicated a two-minute wait for the next train. She walked over to a free space on the platform’s curved wall, leaned back, and waited.
A man entered the periphery of her vision, ear-bud headphones in his ears, tapping away on his phone, oblivious to the dense crowd around him. He walked nearer Eve, eyes glued to his phone, continuing some game or online chat.
The man smiled to himself, clearly enjoying whatever he was doing, but didn’t notice that he’d slightly changed direction, veering towards the platform’s edge. He’d come to his senses any second now and realise the danger, thought Eve. Wouldn’t he?
He kept going, closer and closer to the yellow line and the platform edge beyond. Eve registered the change in air pressure as the tube approached the station. The man was going to fall in front of the train. Panic rose up in Eve’s throat, but the shout from her mouth was swept away by the noise of the train entering the far end of the station. The man took another step forwards.
At that moment another commuter grabbed at the man and pulled him back to safety. The younger man whirled around, startled, almost lashing out. He then realised what had nearly happened, and offered profuse thanks and a handshake to his saviour. Those nearby breathed a sigh of relief.
Except Eve. She was rooted to the spot, eyes wide open but unseeing, her mind ablaze with visions. She saw scenes flashing across her mind like a sped-up, clumsily edited movie. Establishing shot of a mundane terraced house. Knock at the door, heard from the inside, the callers indistinct through the patterned glass. Cut to an exterior shot: a middle-aged woman opening the door, her neutral expression turning to concern when she sees the two callers are police officers. “Can we come in?” Jump-cut to the living room – cosy, slightly twee. The woman seated on the sofa, leaning forward with her head in her hands, wailing pitifully, a framed picture of her dead son laid flat on the coffee table in front of her. Cut again to one of the police officers, now in the cramped kitchen, making tea in three mismatched mugs. Then fade to black.
Eve drew breath with a start, and was back in her own corner of reality, heart pounding. Only seconds must have passed. The train was still in the station, its influx of new passengers having boarded. She saw the young man who had nearly fallen on the tracks. He was standing in the carriage directly in front of her, once again tapping away on his phone. She caught a glimpse of his face, and recognised it from the photograph on the weeping woman’s coffee table. The train’s doors closed.
It took her another moment to try to make sense of what had happened. Some hallucination or other, some electrical misfire in the brain, some divine projection from an entity she didn’t believe in? Eve rationalised it as much as she could, but could only come up with something nonsensical: she had seen what would have happened. Fate’s own intention, thwarted at the last minute by circumstance or pure chance.
The train left the station. Eve didn’t move a muscle. Her heart rate and breathing finally began to slow, and the vision’s lingering feeling of loss and longing started to fade. Some moments later, a uniformed member of staff walked by. Seeing the thousand-yard stare on her face, he spoke.
“You alright, love? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
A week or so later, Eve took the last bus home after an impromptu Friday night get-together with some friends. The single-decker was about a quarter full, and she took a window seat towards the back. She stared out aimlessly as the bus wound through residential suburbs, industrial areas, past grey municipal buildings.
The bus emerged into the glare of shop-fronts, fast food joints, and bars, picking up the last of the evening’s revellers. Several passengers entered, bought tickets, and sat down. The doors hissed shut and the bus lurched slightly as the driver shifted it into gear.
Out of the corner of her eye, Eve saw a couple running hand-in-hand down the pavement, trying to catch the bus. A guy and a girl, both mid-twenties, smartly dressed. The young man was edging slightly ahead of the woman, who Eve could see was wearing heels and having trouble running. The man waved towards the bus, but it accelerated away. Eve looked back and saw the couple come to a halt, red-faced and breathing heavily from the exertion. They both looked disappointed, the man verging on heartbroken.
Then it happened again. Eve’s surroundings fell away and she was once again the passive audience for a fly-on-the-wall documentary that would never take place.
She saw the couple catching the bus after all, sitting down together, giggling, flirting. The scene cut to the “come in for coffee?” moment at the woman’s front door. Jump to the couple kissing in the kitchen while a boiling kettle steamed on the worktop behind them, the coffee forgotten. Cut to the pair falling into bed, the woman wide-eyed with anticipation, the man’s face keen with desire and arousal. Fade to black.
Eve was back on the bus, staring into her lap, short of breath, reeling and giddy from the intensity of the vision. Just like in the tube station, she’d felt – almost witnessed – how things would have turned out, if something hadn’t intervened. She knew that the couple would have felt the moment had gone when they missed the last bus. A stultifying – and sobering – twenty-minute wait for a taxi on a busy Friday night would have dampened what remained of their ardour and spontaneity. No, their night had ended all too soon. But Eve had seen what would have happened, but didn’t. Not so disturbing, this time. But what was going on?
The visions happened sporadically over the next few weeks, not appearing to follow any pattern.
The woman dressed in a suit slowing down her stride momentarily to check her watch, at the exact moment a passing van hit a puddle, showering the pavement just ahead of her with filthy water. Eve’s mind cut to the woman arriving late for the job interview, looking stressed and bedraggled. The apologetic man – corporate, middle-aged – summoned to reception, saying “We assumed you’d decided not to attend. I’m afraid we’ve appointed someone else”.
The cyclist deciding at the last moment to slam on the brakes and respect the traffic light that had just changed to red. Cut to a vision of the truck driver’s tearful pleas. “I went through on green. He just shot straight across in front of me. There was no way I could stop in time”.
There was sometimes joy and beauty in the visions, too. But it was always tempered by Eve’s knowledge that those events wouldn’t happen.
The man in front of her at the newsagent, looking at the lottery machine, then deciding against it. Vision of the man, this time dressed more smartly, smiling broadly with his overwhelmed wife beside him, popping open a foaming bottle of champagne while a dozen flashguns illuminated them. “The first thing we’re doing to do is take nice, long holiday”.
Eve’s vision of an elderly couple enjoying their afternoon tea-dance at the day-centre, rather than waiting outside for an ambulance after the gentleman tripped on a loose paving slab.
The visions continued, each leaving Eve feeling more helpless and bewildered. A crazed projectionist was screening films in her head, without her permission or control. She knew that none of her friends or family would understand, and she flinched at the very idea of trying to explain it to a professional. So she continued as best she could, trying to keep the scenes from movies that would never be made out of her head.
Eve finished work and walked down to the tube station again. Same crowd, same smells, same feeling as always. She went through the barriers, along the halls and down the stairs. At one point, her shoulder bag’s strap caught on another commuter’s backpack. She reached down to untangle it, but her hand made contact with the hand of the backpack’s owner, already trying to unravel things. She looked up. Early thirties guy, OK looking.
The vision hit her instantly and intensely.
Her mind saw the man in front of her smiling, saying something about having seen Eve lots of times. Saying something about wanting to ask her what she was so deep in thought about. Saying something about about trying to work it out for himself.
The scene cut to the two of them in a cafe, chatting and smiling, empty cups and plates speckled with cake crumbs on the table in front of them.
Cut to their first kiss.
Cut to the two of them walking out of the plane’s door onto the clanking stairway, sunglasses on, smiling as they felt the heat and humidity hit them, seeing the palm trees and the unfamiliar tint to the sky.
Cut to Eve in a hospital gown, hair damp with sweat, face reddened and stressed, the man gently caressing her swollen belly.
Cut to a child’s messy crayon drawing – two figures, with ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ scrawled at the bottom.
Cut to the proud graduation ceremony, a striking young woman not unlike Eve in looks, posing in the gown, throwing the mortar-board in the air.
Cut to a shot of Eve and her fellow commuter, middle-aged now, but their eyes still sparkling, relaxing in a sunlit garden. Fade to black.
Eve returned to reality, the feeling of belonging from the vision staying with her. Only a second or two must have passed. She found herself looking into the eyes of the man who had just untangled their bags. The same one she had spent a lifetime with in the blink of an eye, just seconds ago. He had a nervous smile on his face.
He said, “We got tangled up a couple of weeks back, too. I’ve seen you getting the tube lots of times, but I’ve never had a chance to say hi properly.”
Eve was silent, but could feel something slipping into place in her mind.
He continued. “You always look so deep in thought. I wondered what you were thinking about, all that time. I used to try to read your face & work out what you were thinking.” His smile wider now, his eyes joining in, emboldened.
Eve stayed silent again. But she sensed how the present and the future were coming into alignment. Her heart skipped a beat.
The man looked away from Eve, eyes darting around the crowded tube station, betraying his nerves. He drew breath, and almost said something, but the words seemed to catch in his throat.
Eve silently willed him on.
He gave it another try. “Do you… Do you fancy a coffee? There’s a little French place round the corner. Fantastic cakes, too. My treat?”
Eve smiled at the man, her destiny finally clicking into place.