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Sunday, 14 March 2010


At the train station I was guided along the orient express’ bustling corridors and to my compartment by a sickeningly unattainable French stewardess, I became so preoccupied with the rhythmic bobbling of her tight derrière and fragranced slipstream that I at first didn’t notice the leper sat in the corner of my carriage. When I did notice him I thought he was an hallucination. A consequence of too much absinthe, or cheese, or some reaction inspired by the ingestion of the two.

It will take all your imagination to conjure up the image of this leprous Monsieur as he sat before me. His face, which protruded from the collar of a heavy black mac, was a confusion of pocks and scars. They scraped across its granite surface like veins of quartz or other igneous intrusions and his nose had rotted away leaving only two skeletal holes, entrances to the shadowy bronchial tunnels. The guttering light from energy saving bulbs that flickered as we clanked out of Gard du Nord did nothing for his complexion, turning it the same colour as old and dirt-stained bone.

His name, publicised by the tag of his suitcase, was M. J. Delape.

I stared away from this victim of that biblical bug and at the window rather than through it. At the smudges of grease made by the fingers and the sweaty heads of travellers that had sleepily lolled into it. Behind the countryside was transformed into blurs or browns and yellows, clouded by the streaks and smears of excreted human oils.

I thought for the first time how important skin is at keeping your insides in and away from the sickened stares of strangers on public transport.

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