Excerpt from The Lazy Optimist (2013) by Martin Gladdish

Sitting on the train to work Charlie would watch those around him, trying to identify the frauds and the fakers and deflect the attention from the apathy he’d started using to keep him warm at the start of each day. It would usually be crowded when he boarded the train, but on this particular morning he spotted a space and went to sit down next to a tired looking gentleman whose general shape had either been forgotten or ignored by the people who make train seats. Charlie angled his legs back towards the aisle, brushing past the knees of the sleeping lady opposite, who opened one eye for a moment before returning to her semi-conscious doze. The man next to her gazed pensively into the space above Charlie’s left shoulder as if he was expecting to find something, perhaps a loved one or the answer to a matter of impending doom. Charlie found himself counting to see how long it would be until the man blinked before his attention was briefly drawn back to the sleeping lady. People shouldn’t yawn on trains or do any other facial exercises. It’s not very attractive.

The big guy next door shifted his considerable frame slightly, causing Charlie to readjust his position further into the aisle. Feeling vaguely comfortable again he looked back at the staring man who obviously hadn’t found anything yet because he was still looking. About mid to late 40’s with a less than generous crop of loose grey hair and it appeared that his forehead had gained an extra wrinkle since the last time he looked. His suit and overcoat said he was a confident achiever, a man of means and not afraid to use them. But his eyes betrayed him, revealing an insight into a different soul, and the way his lightly clasped hands fidgeted with the handle of the slim-line briefcase on his lap exposed him as merely mortal and troubled by the thought. The train stopped and simultaneously a look of sheer determined confidence swept across his face as he stood and left behind a part of him which perhaps existed only on the train. Meanwhile Charlie’s neighbour slept on, disturbed only momentarily by another traveller adding her personality to his day and filling the now vacant seat before him. He’d seen her before (you remember people like that) big red-rimmed glasses and a nose not so much buried as glued to her book. She was fairly small and had an almost awed look on her face, mostly due, to her living every spare moment of her day in a world of total make-believe. Awe turned to a gentle smile as she appeared to be touched by some comment in the book and she eagerly reached for the next page, hardly even noticing the volcano blowing his nose next to Charlie. Etiquette would suggest that a simple wipe would suffice, but perhaps he was being picky.

His attention was then drawn to another familiar face, middle-aged and dressed in grey she settled across the train; her face betraying deep sorrow as though in the midst of a great trial. Vaguely aware of others around her she stared out of the window, a hint of dampness resting at the tender edge of her eyes. These were eyes like deep pools of regret that told a story so sad they seemed to suck you in to their despair.  As her head drifted slowly to one side, her hand moved in sync to support it and there she remained, looking at a world void of hope through a dirty old window, decorated by a worn out no smoking sign. At the next stop the ‘more than regular’ gentleman beside Charlie hoisted himself up and left, making way for the ultimate city stereotype; his pinstripes declaring loud and clear that he would normally take a taxi but as a one-off he decided to mix with the lower classes. This lie, however, was also equally lost within the plethora of deceptions and performances that are on display in the lives of the millions of ordinary people that suffer with lazy optimism. But this guy was a real pro as he drew the Financial Times from his brown leather briefcase then skilfully folded it into quarters before reading it through the bottom of his designer specs. As the train entered the tunnel which took them to its final stop Charlie’s attention was drawn to another man trying to escape some deep rooted challenge which had obviously plagued him for years. He continued to stare at this mirage trying to work him out before noticing what appeared to be a tear beginning to build in the corner of his eye. This face faded behind a dirty window, Charlie wiped his cheek and made his way to work.

It was during this long period of slumber in his life that Charlie became familiar with the uncomfortable thought that perhaps he was just like everyone else after all. Deep down he knew that he was an optimist and that one day he was going to be successful. But over the years (which had somehow become decades) he increasingly questioned why it simply hadn’t happened yet.

“A dream will only ever be a dream until you get it out of your head”