Anita Goveas – Crime and Punishment

16The wind through the station is devouring. It’s eating layers of skin off my face, piercing through my coat to the frayed jumper underneath, finagling through the hole in the armpit.
The woman next to me is properly kitted out for unexpected winter- fur-lined boots, wool hat and scarf that match her shiny handbag. I put my bobbled brown mitten back in my pocket and pull on the one tan leather glove.
The seconds of the station clock flick forward, but still no Victoria train. This will be the third time I’ll be late this week and I’m running out of excuses. It’s cold and I’m living off chappatis until payday doesn’t seem to be good enough. Yesterday’s story involved horses and a tractor. I enjoyed it but it probably can’t be repeated.
The woman next to me gasps. I turn to check I haven’t been talking out loud again. Her face is slack, the lines around her mouth lengthened into question marks. There’s a small boy on the tracks, darker-skinned than me, in a Snoopy t-shirt and emerald-green shorts. I can’t see his shoes. He’s half-walking, half-crouched, eyes down. He makes a jerky grab, and a fluffy bundle is in his thin arms, cradled to his chest. I hope it’s a kitten, but there’s a glimmer of rodent tail. They disappear through a chink in the barbed-wire fence.
The woman gasps again. I smile to cement our mutual appreciation of his triumph.
“He should be in school, not breaking the law.”
Her voice is rich, like custard. I smell mint and grape on her breath. In her pocket is a shiny, pristine copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’ that matches her fingernails.  In the crowd pressing themselves on the eventual train, it’s a trembling moment to slide it from her coat to mine.

 

 

 

 

Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in former actus mag, Litro, New Flash Fiction Review, Porridge and Longleaf Review. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer

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