Real life

Was the maskless man in my carriage dying of Covid?

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

A man without a mask appeared to be dying of Covid, or something quite like it, on the London to Guildford train.

Hunched double in his seat across the aisle, he groaned as he coughed, gasped as he sneezed, and sniffed as a way of clearing the mess because he hadn’t got a tissue.

Sans mask, sans handkerchief he spluttered and spattered. His capacity to ignore my stare was magnificent.

I’m not a tolerant person, and when someone is sneezing at me during what is supposed to be a pandemic I cannot muster generosity. Sitting on the worn, red upholstery of the 1453 South Western train service from Waterloo, I looked daggers at this fellow to no avail.

He was a big man, dark and I would say swarthy but I don’t think you’re allowed to say that any more, even though in my book swarthy is a compliment meaning handsome in a rustic, Mediterranean way.

But I don’t want a BLM brick chucked through my window, actually or metaphorically.

So I’ll just say he was buff, and looked like a waiter I might have had a crush on when I was 19 and on a package holiday.

He would have been attractive if he had not been emitting such a volume of fluids from his facial area. The sneezes were so enormous they shook his entire body and I wondered how long it would be before somebody said something, although there were only six passengers in the carriage.

The conductor walked through twice and although he eyed my masked face suspiciously, he seemed not to see the sneezing, coughing, groaning man sitting maskless across the aisle.

At Epsom, to my amazement, just as I was about to jump up and change carriage, the train stopped next to a British Transport Police officer who was standing on the platform. I pressed my face against the window and hoped she would notice my silently screaming eyes. Nope. I pulled my mask down and tried to mouth the word ‘Help!’ while pointing my thumb discreetly at the coughing man but she looked at the train with glazed eyes.


As the door beepers sounded, I saw her checking each passenger who had alighted with an expression that said ‘’Ello ’ello ’ello! What ’ave we ’ere then? Are we all wearing our masks correctly?’

As the train moved off, the coughing man had another fit and coated the carriage in another layer of his essence.

At Ashtead, I jumped up and leapt out to see the conductor standing on the platform outside the next door carriage. I ran up to him and said: ‘There’s a man on board who is very ill. He’s coughing everywhere. No mask.’

The conductor looked furiously at me. ‘Nothing I can do!’ he barked. I pleaded: ‘But he’s covered the entire carriage in phlegm!’

‘Still nothing I can do!’ barked the conductor. And truly he did look as though he was about to slap me with a fine for casting aspersions on the exempt.

I boarded the next door carriage, resigned to a man dying of Covid, or something quite like it, as we chugged on to Leatherhead.

I was on my way home from a specialist appointment. I had received an email in the end, telling me the results of the MRI.

I say in the end because I was told to expect a call from the hospital at 11 a.m. but it didn’t come until 11.25 when I was on the train to go and see the specialist I was paying to speed things up a bit. By the time she had taken my date of birth to identify me, the train was moving and the reception patchy.

I tried to explain it would be handy to have the NHS scan results before I saw the consultant privately…

‘… need a history before… can’t just give you the…’

‘Have I got arthritis in my neck?’

‘… mid cervical spondylotic changes…foraminal narrowing…’

And the phone went dead.

At London Bridge I was early, so I went for a coffee by the Golden Hinde.

I texted the builder boyfriend a picture and he sent me a short lecture about Sir Francis Drake.

A mother with two young children sat down next to me. The oldest said: ‘So they built another one exactly the same?’ My thoughts exactly.

I checked my phone and the NHS had emailed the MRI results.

In the waiting room of the private hospital, I fixated on a Japanese lady with exquisite clothes and a porcelain perfect face.

Last time I was here I had spinach in my teeth, I was mortified to discover later.

This time I had brought a toothbrush but I didn’t remember until I was sitting opposite the beautiful lady. I bet she didn’t travel home under a shower of mucus.

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