The Uncomfortable Gaze #2
A few weeks ago, a weather system boarded the train home from Birmingham New Street; vortices of hair hair, a cold front of white, white teeth and, walloping along at knee height, two screaming faces; a family, the silvered barometer of a buggy, and their voices. The train was busy, and so the mum took the smaller girl, a grizzling ball of slick, red elbows and cheeks, up the carriage to find a pair of seats, whilst the dad sat opposite his older daughter, next to me. I was not particularly subtle with my gaze; he would look up every now and then and smile at me encouragingly, before champing at his gum, and showing me the back of his throat.
He had the most immense teeth, perfect white in that way teeth are not, even at birth before they have chewed anything. Like a Newton’s Cradle he clacked the ball of gum back and forth, showcasing the sound of his tart, elastic tongue prising it apart, followed by the tinkle of squeezed spit, cltcha, tchsss, cltcha, tchsss, over and over again. He wore his hair in a ponytail and cap, and despite all of this I really liked him, just to look at him. He was obviously quite into his precious stones, and he wore rough-cut examples of each at every pressure point imaginable, except any that required piercing his flesh; over his heart, around his neck in a little papoose, thronging his wrists, purple, green and white. He smiled constantly, with that oafishness that I really cannot detach from the chewing of gum, down at his daughter, who also chewed her own gum.
They both cltchaed and tchsssed, and the two sounds were like two glasses filleed to different heights.
She asked where her mum was, and he answered that she had fallen out of the window; she began to cry, and he smiled and waited for her to realise that it was a joke, that their love was implied and he was only teasing her. She asked him for “the iPad, Daddy”, and he drew it out of its case and opened a learning app for her. It was obvious that he loved the thing; he swooped and tapped across it with all the dexterity of a conductor, his little finger stuck out at all times. He was tricking her into improving her own poise, walking her through games where insects crawled across the screen and she had to squash them, or where a cup moved with a ball inside it for her to follow. She grew frustrated, now and then, and he smiled at her. The screen’s background was of Vishnu sat upon his throne.
I watched them for the rest of the journey, not minding that my gaze was gazed upon, and he not minding either, as he smiled at me, and then at her. She grinned up at him, and he would unfurl his own, gigantic teeth, the gum cltchaing in both of their throats, one a reduction, or a potential, of the other.