Gosh. A Dog. So that was why.
I sat down anyway. The Asian guy to the left of me had scurried past and was now sitting opposite to it, giving it tense looks. He had taken his girlfriend with him, who was staring at me in that peculiarly brash, unblinking way that girls from the Sub-Continent had when no-one from their non-in-law family was around. She was, of course, trying to guess at my ethnicity and nationality. The eyes and the light skin always caused confusion. Everyone was wearing brown coats, including the Dog Lady. It was a disgusting colour.
The entire little compartment on the District Line smelt. Undoubtedly, the people across from me contributed to the mixture, but I was rather unsure of whether the stench arose from the lady to my right or her dog. Perhaps it was a special combination.
To the left, three small children stared in my direction. They were not looking at me, but rather the dog. Their mother, on the other hand, a black-haired woman in a black coat, was staring at me while pretending to read a magazine. I had put myself out of synch with the Asian lady opposite me and it must have given her the impression that I was looking in her direction. I was not. I was distancing myself from the smell and the direct, appraising and classificatory stare of the Asian eye. Although when a lady did sneak a look at me, it always seemed in my case to initiate a retaliatory glance under cover.
After a short while, the Asian couple got off. I noticed a spare seat elsewhere, but by now was suffering from a sort of inertia of ennui. My music had died down on my Ipod because it was out of juice and the raven-haired mum was still fixating me with the tops of her eyes over the page. I turned to the Dog Lady. Is it a terrier, I asked her.
For a moment she did not answer. The mother and her children now leaned closer in from their side of the compartment. She stared quite openly at me. I had seen it in the mirror of the window. I distinctly heard the sound of a child holding his breath.
It’s a Yorkshire terrier, said the woman in those grating Essex accents, a voice of many years of drinking and cigarettes, possibly of an inferior education. She smiled at me and I noticed that she had but three front teeth, each of these irregular and stained with brown, cracked and over-long. On her brown coat were a number of stains. Perhaps she was slightly short-sighted and had never noticed them.
Oh, I said. And now, since the children were eavesdropping, I had to continue. Besides, which, it staved off the boredom. But she spoke first. We’re just coming from a show. I gave the dog a quick look over when she said so. He seemed to be quite a typical specimen. Nothing out of the ordinary. How did he do, I asked, not very tactfully. She didn’t pause now. She did very well, thank you, she said. Oh, I said. He’s a she. She ignored the irony. Yes.
She’s very well-behaved, I said. Much more so than my little nephews. Babies are so terribly trying. The Dog Lady laughed. Much more faithful than children as well she said. I wondered what the children on the compartment on the left made of this, as well as their mother. Not like my two daughters who’ve left me all alone with the old man. And as the Dog Lady laughed and I pretended to laugh, I felt sadness lurch inside me.
And then Muffin, the dog, barked and barked and barked. I sat still. Quiet. I looked ahead. The child to my left offered Muffin a crisp and the Dog Lady politely declined it. She looked at me now from the side quizzically, perhaps hoping for more of a conversation. Perhaps wondering if I were to disturb again her awesome repose, or wondering who I was, where I was from, where I was going to get off. But her curiosity had no words. I was wondering to myself whether this was why people did not talk on the tube. Because one may run out of conversation and still be sitting next to someone. But my stop was not far.
I said good day to the Dog Lady as I got off. She smiled at me and waved at me from the window. Behind her, the children from the other compartment stared at me. So did their mother.