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Fifty Years On

Gaze fixed on her phone, Jaz read the email again without taking in a word. She squeezed Tish’s hand, her grip tightening when raucous laughter exploded from the four men sprawled on the seats diagonally opposite.

“I mean, look at ’im. Fuckin’ poof.”

Tensing, Jaz looked up to see the man in the outside seat facing her, lean across the table and send a beer can clattering to the floor. Ignoring the noise and the pool of liquid spreading across the stained linoleum, he thrust a phone at his bleary-eyed mates.

“Look at the stupid way ’e fuckin’ runs,” he bellowed. “Like a fuckin’ girl. I hate fuckin’ queers.”

Jaz drew a sharp breath and held it. She wished she could move away from the obnoxious quartet but the carriage was full. People and their belongings filled every seat, the doorways, and the aisles. There was nowhere to go. And, even if there was, attempting to squeeze past all those people would get her noticed. That, she didn’t want.

“Ignore them,” whispered Tish, stroking the back of Jaz’s hand with a thumb.

Nodding, Jaz lowered her gaze to her phone again and tried to shut out the gruff voices.

She couldn’t. Peeping cautiously, she watched the four loudmouths passing the phone around, pudgy fingers pointing.

“Fucking queer,” sneered the largest of the group; an inflated skinhead with alcohol reddened cheeks and eyes to match. “What? Got a problem?”

Jaz flinched but the barked question was directed at a man standing in the aisle. A beer can and accusing finger were jabbed toward him, prompting the man to shuffle away as much as the cramped confines would allow. Adjusting his earphones, he started at his phone and pretended not to hear the continuing comments.

All around him, mute passengers did the same.

“What about you?” Skinhead pointed a fat finger at the woman seated in front of Jaz. “Well?” He burped loudly and wiped spittle from his mouth. “You got a problem?” The woman lifted her chin and scowled but when Skinhead lurched forward, face red with anger, she shrank back. “Thought not.” He eyeballed her. “Fuckin’ scar face. How’d you get that? Did you do it to yourself ’cos you’re so fuck ugly?”

The woman’s face flushed and she touched the pale scar transecting her left cheek. A corner of her mouth twitched but she said nothing. Raising her phone, she stared blankly, like everyone else.

“I hate this,” whispered Jaz.

“Me too but we’re almost there. They’re just drunk arseholes who…” she gasped as the word lesbian fired from the quartet’s conversation. She clutched Jaz’s hand tighter and, ears burning, they both listened.

“Lesbians only fuck each other ’cos no man’ll ’ave ’em. Too fuckin’ ugly, aren’t they?”

“I dunno…what about them lezzers in Malaga? They were well fit.”

“Not real lezzers, you soft git!” Skinhead clipped his mate round the ear. “Did it for money, didn’t they?” He took a mouthful of lager then crumpled the can. “Scarface is probably a lesbian,” he said, cracking open a fresh brew. He surveyed the carriage as he took a slurp. Jaz’s innards twisted when his gaze settled on her. “Them. That ugly bird with the stupid afro and,” he leaned forward, “the short-haired dyke next to her.” He stared insolently. “I fuckin’ hate short hair on women.”

“You’re mum’s got short hair,” said the lad next to him, laughing.

“Shut the fuck up!” Skinhead punched his arm. “She’s not a lezzer like them.”

The way he said lezzer made Jaz feel sick and the man was still staring. Even looking down at her phone she could feel his eyes boring into her. She willed him to stop, willed the train to cease its jolting rhythm and glide to a halt at the station. Teeth gritted, she cursed her decision to have that second coffee, and so missing the earlier train. Big mistake. She’d known about the football match, carefully checked the train times to avoid contact with the departing fans. Why hadn’t she stuck to the plan?

“Relax.” Tish squeezed her hand, gently this time, but Jaz heard the tension in her voice and watched her wipe sweat from her brow.

“Hey, I’m talking to you two.”

The man standing to the left of her shifted in the aisle, blocking Skinhead’s view of Jaz. Grateful, she cowered behind him and breathed a sigh of relief when Skinhead gave up and returned to his mates’ conversation about unspecified ‘fucking gays’.

The offensive talk grew louder. Nastier. Disgusted, Jaz held her tongue. She had to; you can’t reason with drunkards and these four were looking for an argument – any argument. They’d pick a fight with someone before the night was out, but that someone was not going to be her.

Right on schedule, brakes squealed and the train slowed.

Jaz exhaled. “Our stop,” she murmured.

“Thank goodness,” whispered Tish. “Come on, there’s a gap.”

Movement toward the doors had opened up a passage along the carriage and Tish urged Jaz to move while the train was still slowing. Jaz didn’t need to be asked twice. She gathered her bags with shaking hands, braced herself, and slid from her seat.

Skinhead accosted her immediately. “Where you going, lezzer?”

Ignoring him, Jaz stared straight ahead and made a break for the doors. Thankfully, the four louts stayed in their seats and when the train stopped, Jaz and Tish jostled their way to the safety of the platform.

“Come here,” Tish said as passengers pushed past them to board. She hugged Jaz tight. “You okay? You’re shaking.”

“So are you.”

“It’s anger.” Tish puffed out her cheeks. “They’re tossers. Arseholes. But…” she held up a hand, “I’m not going to let them ruin our day.” She drew a breath. “I’m over it.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes. Why not? They’re idiots who can’t hold their drink.” She rolled her eyes. “They’re nothing and we were having a lovely day before we met them, weren’t we?”

Jaz’s twisted her mouth. “Yes, but...”

“But nothing. Four homophobic morons aren’t going to spoil anything. Right?”

“Homophobic, racist, bigoted morons,” Jaz corrected with a small smile.

Tish grinned. “Exactly.” Taking Jaz’s hands in hers she shook her head. “It’s twenty-nineteen and people like that still exist.”

“Crap, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, shit. But I’m not going to let them get to me.”

“Me neither.” Jaz’s heart was racing and she still trembled. “Do you fancy a drink?” she asked. “I think I need one.”

Tish nodded. “Why not?”

The evening was warm, ideal for a cold beer outside their local pub. But, as the girls approached, their hearts sank. The noise – raucous laughter and football chants – assaulted their ears before the pub was even in sight. Jaz ran a hand through her wild curls.

“Oh come on, it’s our local and not all football fans are like those twats on the train,” said Tish.

“Yeah, I know, but…” Shrugging, Jaz carried on but her pace soon slowed. The pub was crowded. Loud, drunk people – mostly men – spilled out onto the street, beers in hand. “Do you recognise anyone?” she asked, scanning the mob.

“No,” said Tish, also faltering. “You?”

“No.” Jaz frowned. “You know what, shall we, erm…”

“Get a bottle from the off-licence?”

Jaz nodded eagerly. “You read my mind.” She surveyed the sea of white, male football fans. Not the kind of crowd she’d envisaged mingling with. She hated to assume the worst of anyone from looks alone, but her experience on the train told her this lot might not like an interracial lesbian couple joining them. “It’s a gorgeous evening, we could sit on our balcony.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. One second, okay?” Winking, Tish handed over her shopping bags and dashed across the street to the corner shop. Jaz waited patiently, her gaze on the pub. The locals were a very friendly bunch and might be inside or out back in the beer garden. An evening with them would be fun. And just because the football fans outside the pub had overdone the celebrating, it didn’t mean they’d behave like the thugs on the train.

But she was still shaken and her head filled with social media reports about the lesbian couple attacked on a bus for no reason other than they were gay. There was also the ex-MP spouting anti-LGBT garbage and ridiculous notions about ‘curing’ homosexuality. An idiotic notion she was surprised merited media coverage. Was anti-gay feeling still rife? Current events and the rise of openly homophobic celebrities suggested it was. What about the Trump regime?

“All set.” Tish held up a bottle of red wine. “Okay for you? Hello,” she said, waving the wine in front of Jaz’s face.

“Sorry, miles away.” Jaz watched her girlfriend’s full, red lips curve into the most beautiful smile. Her heart melted and, leaning in, she gave her a peck on the cheek.

“That all I get?” Tish arched an eyebrow.

Jaz glanced around.

“Really?” Tish tut-tutted. “We’re safe, Jaz. You can kiss me, you’ve been doing it all day. Oh, Jaz…” Cupping Jaz’s face, she kissed her hard.

Jaz’s ears prickled, listening for jeers coming from the pub. When none did, she relaxed her lips and kissed deeply.

“Mmm, that’s better,” said Tish softly, pulling away. “Now, I’m in the mood for more of that.” She rummaged in a pocket for her door key. “Wine, food, cuddles and, well, more. Not,” she said, her eyes sparkling, “necessarily in that order.”

Jaz felt a familiar tug inside and the warmth of love flooded through her, bringing back the joy she’d felt before the train ride. “Sounds perfect,” she said, sliding her arms around Tish’s waist. Her girlfriend was wonderful and she was blessed.

* 

Craig turned from the laptop. “D’you think that’s how it ended?”

“I hope so. I’d like to think they brushed it off, went home and put the abuse down to four ignorant tossers who couldn’t hold their drink. But,” Kate shrugged, “I doubt they dismissed it that easily. They looked frightened,” she said, shaking her head. “I wish I’d said something. I should have said something.”

“No, no…”

“I should have stood my ground.” Kate pursed her lips. “They were out of order, you know? Bang out of order.”

“They were also drunk, remember?” Craig looked into Kate’s eyes. “You shouldn’t provoke drunk people, it’s not safe. As well you know.” His gaze flicked over to the narrow pink scar on Kate’s face.

Kate covered her cheek. “But still, I—”

“Kate…” Craig shook his head.

“You’re right, I know.” She sighed. “I just hope those girls were okay.”

“I’m sure they were. Tell you what, we’ll keep an eye out for them tomorrow at the Pride Festival. If we spot them, we’ll talk to them. Needle in a haystack,” he said, smiling, “but you never know.”

A smile creased Kate’s face. “I like the sound of that.”

“Good.” Craig patted her arm. “Now then, what are you going to do with this story?” he asked, nodding at the laptop.

“I don’t know yet,” said Kate thoughtfully. “But I’ll think of something.”

 

*

With thanks to JWren for his excellent typo spotting.

 

 

 

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