He was standing on the crowded bus, leaning back against the rail around the luggage store. A palpable tension filled the air as the women on the bus – and some of the men – gazed at him, hardly able to believe the upturn the routinely unpleasant journey home had taken.
He was trying to read the paper, holding the upright post with one hand, the paper in his other. Afterwards she was to wonder if he was aware of the concentration of stares on him. Did he know? Had he sensed them looking at him? Was it like this wherever he went?
He was tall. Very tall. Broad in shoulder, lean in hip. His hair was rumpled blond like damp straw. His eyes, when he occasionally glanced up to note the progress of the bus, were a cool clear grey. His nose was straight, possibly a little too straight. And his mouth was a little wider than perfection allowed. His cheekbones were high and prominent and with the eyebrows and his fierce look of concentration, he had a brooding, slightly hard look, a bad boy that you might not be able to bring home to mother, as she’d probably want him as much as you did.
He wore a charcoal grey suit, obviously expensive, well-cut to his figure, with a negligent air that showed he was at ease in it. There was no sign of self-consciousness or shyness. But she instinctively felt certain that he would look every bit as good in jeans and an old sweater. And even better naked amongst rumpled bedsheets. She found it impossible not to notice the way everyone else was leering at him too, and she reckoned they were thinking along the same lines.
Her attention was captured suddenly by his hand as he gripped the newspaper. Long, slender fingers, tapering elegantly to the tips. The sight of his fingernails gave her an almost physical jolt. They were painted with shiny mauve nail polish. She couldn’t take her eyes of his fingers.
She had known men with well-manicured nails before. She knew men who had massages, their hair coiffed and primped, and yes, had their nails shaped and buffed until they shone, as if polished. But this was different. His nails really had been polished. She imagined a scenario where a friend or family member, a young woman had teased him into having a nail painted. She could imagine a fond uncle reading to little nieces and then falling asleep in the chair and waking to find he’d been daubed with make-up or had his hair yanked into tiny plaits. She remembered inflicting just such terrors on her own uncle many years earlier. She remembered him washing his face vigorously and combing out his hair before heading for home.
But this was different. His nails really had been polished. And not in a clear varnish, and not in Goth-black. It was quite a pretty shade of mauve, which, she could see now, perfectly complimented his mauve shirt and tie.
Yet he was anything but feminine. She wondered if anyone else had noticed. Attention seemed to be wandering from him a little, and there was an increase in the shuffling, coughing, sniffing ambience normal to a bus journey. Yes, she thought, they have noticed, and he has been dismissed by most of them as gay. One or two men and women still watched him, but generally, they seemed to have given up on him.
A strident voice smashed into her daydream.
‘Are you getting off or what?’ the bus-driver demanded. Feeling as though the eyes of everyone were on her, she stammered an apology, her face hot with embarrassment.
She struggled off the bus and went home to her cat, her microwave meal for one and her fantasies involving a handsome man with painted nails.