A tale of chivalry
The night before last I was drinking
, not enough to knock me asleep and make me miss my Tube
stop, but enough to make me close my eyes for a rest and not notice as we went past my Tube stop. I got out at somewhere called West Finchley
. I was only mildly put out, and crossed over to the other platform to wait for the next train back: only a few stations back, not far.
I paced the platform. Another person came onto it and sat, but I prefer to pace. This late at night (whatever it was) there aren't many trains, so I had time to pace and pace. The further end of the pacing took me right down to a region of weeds and an absence of prying eyes. The young woman back at the other end; maybe a station attendant on the other platform. I could invisibly relieve myself. Looking back now, I don't think I would have risked that if it had been water I'd been drinking, but never mind, I wasn't caught. So then I resumed my pacing.
After a while as I came towards the young woman she was standing up, and approached me. She asked whether I knew if there were any more trains coming. I admitted the worry had occurred to me too, and we crossed back over the bridge to the platform with offices and timetables and maps on it.
There was an attendant, but it became clear we'd missed the last train. I really hadn't thought it was that late. She was riled: she hopped into him for not announcing the fact so people didn't waste their time, then nicely apologized and said of course it wasn't at all his fault. She asked him if he could give her a local minicab number, and whipped out her mobile.
Meanwhile I was examining the local map. I wasn't particularly drunk, I don't mind walking at night, and there are often night buses anyway. We were at somewhere called West Finchley. Come come, this sounded hopeful. I know where East Finchley is, and I know I can easily walk home from that. How much further can West Finchley be? Call it another twenty minutes' walk. Oddly, however, I couldn't find East Finchley on the map, nor any other suburb, nor any road I'd ever heard of.
She was steaming. 'Where the fuck is West Finchley?'
I agreed we were in the middle of nowhere. Now me, I could just go out and start walking, but she was alone, on a fairly quiet street, trying to flag down cars even if they weren't minicabs. I forget what happened to the number she was given. Probably she'd had some bitter altercation with the controllers on the other end. And she had to get to Clapham. That's in South London. Her face dropped, briefly, when she learnt that West Finchley was in North London. She really had had no idea where she was. She was not at all drunk either, but she had also over-rested, by a lot more than I had. I told her I knew how she felt: I had had a terrible night of it a month or so back.
Well, I was safe, I was walking distance away from home, but she was in trouble, and really did need a reliable cab. I couldn't leave her.
She accepted this without demur and we stood outside the station, she fuming and trying to hail cars, me nodding. Eventually a minicab arrived. I think this might have been one she's ordered, not one just happening to pass, because I had already heard her name was Helena; and now I think of it, the driver asked for Helena. She offered me a lift part way, as she was going a long distance anyway, and I said I thought we were passing right near me, so there was no harm. I'd offer a contribution to the fare.
After a short time the driver wanted money. Helena waved her super gold banker's luxury cardette at him. They argued. She said she needed to get out and get cash. This she did, as soon as we got near shops. Then he wanted the money, up front. She said he'd get it at the end. She waved the notes at him and said she had the money, and what guarantee would there be he'd take her all the way? He insisted it was not him, it was company policy. I'm an innocent in these ways, I don't get cabs, but their argument raged. Eventually she said she wasn't standing for it, and said we should get out. I nodded my agreement, in defence of her, not really knowing what the etiquette was.
They continued their slanging match on the pavement, he drove off, and we started walking... we knew not where. South, somehow, waiting for another cab to come along.
She was quite good looking, and I was enjoying the company. I could give her the odd touch around the shoulders to express concern, and she almost reached tears once, just briefly, before strength and determination took over again.
A cab did come along, a black taxi; he sucked his teeth and said it could be £40, but he'd make it no more. Fine by her. The price utterly startled me: I'd have expected about £10 within London. Well, I don't know cabs. I waved away the renewed offer of a lift: I was within walking distance of home. We hugged and kissed lightly, and off she went, poorer but safer.
I remembered that little embrace and instant amity very fondly. And yes, of course, I fantasized, as she'd seemed to be saying I could go to Clapham if I wanted, though I think in reality that was only because she had no idea of where my home lay. So I began walking in the warm, balmy night, with a spring in my step.
Turned out I had no fucking idea where my home lay either, or why West Finchley had that tell-tale word West in its name. The main road south from it doesn't, unsurprisingly in retrospect, come into East Finchley, but diverges off towards... somewhere... After an hour's walking I knew I was in trouble when instead of the familiar landmarks I kept hoping for I found I was in Finchley Road. Heading towards... oh I don't know, but the wrong side of Hampstead. I cut through and found it was Golders Green I was on the wrong side of. Kept telling myself it was worth it: insight into human nature, a nice kiss, didn't have to be up early in the morning, exercise is good for you. Arrived home 2.45 a.m., spring in my step distinctly autumnal.