When worlds collide

It’s the juxtapositions that get you. A hot morning commute after the warmest May bank holiday on record, and the Central Line is sweltering. Opposite me is one of those women who is so striking you need to keep reminding yourself not to look too long to avoid creepiness. But it’s honestly hard to look away. She’s straight off a science fiction movie; pale skin, long black hair that is Japanese-straight, wearing tweed pattern linen trousers against the heat and a pale blue T-shirt with a pixelated picture of a glamorous black woman whose face is haloed by an enormous Afro. She has fine features that seem almost unnaturally symmetrical. But what’s really remarkable is her make up. Her small mouth is outlined in a metallic bronzy red. She has red eye shadow on her upper lids and black and grey eyeliner below. And around her eyes she has dabbed a pale gold blusher that comes down over the top of her wide cheekbones. She also has a smudge of gold on the tip of her nose; I resist the urge to lean over, tap her knee and ask if it’s deliberate. It would break the spell.
Two seats down is a tall middle-aged man, receding silver hair close-cropped to an iron fuzz and a neat salt-and-pepper beard with the pepper descending from both corners of his mouth. He wears angular metal frame glasses, of the type favoured by trendy architects. But he definitely isn’t an architect. I noticed before he sat down that he was wearing the full-length black cassock of a Catholic priest; immaculately pressed with every pleat in the skirt in place. A column of shining black buttons descends from the neat white rectangle of his dog collar. The immaculate look is spoiled only slightly by the yellow and black striped pencil clamped in the left-hand corner of his mouth, which he removes occasionally to make notes in the book he’s intently studying. Titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist”, it has the most bizarre cover styling I have ever seen: shocking pink, with the title in scrolling white calligraphy of the sort that would be more at home on a 1970s soft porn novel. Whatever the mysteries are, they are more enthralling than the figure from the future seated a few metres to his right, but then he’s made a vow about that.

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