On a sunny Tuesday morning in August Eddie sat in front of the television in his parents’ semi-detached home in Hounslow. His elderly mother Marjorie came through all creaky kneed from the kitchen carrying his breakfast on a TV-dinner-tray.
‘Sugar,’ he said.
‘Edward, mum! I’m thirty-eight. I want to be called Edward.’
Judith, his new therapist had asked that he insist on being called Edward to help instil in him a sense of adulthood and authority, hoping it would raise his confidence and provoke more of a feeling of self-worth.
‘I’m sorry. Edward. They’re frosted flakes. They don’t need anymore sugar on them.’
‘But I like them with extra sugar, you know I’ve a sweet tooth.’
She turned back to the kitchen.
‘And this is skimmed milk! I only take full cream!’
‘We don’t have any, Edd… Edward. I’ll get some today.’
She handed him the sugar and placed on the tray a green and yellow capsule containing 60 milligrams of Fluoxetine, more commonly known by the brand name Prozac.
Judith had said, ‘Edward. Prozac has brought relief to millions of similarly troubled people. I’m sure if you stick with it you’ll feel much better.’
That was four weeks ago, but if anything he felt worse. Crushing the capsule between his fingers, he stuffed it down the side of the couch.
Eddie was a big bald-headed lad, over six foot tall and heavily built. Because of his size you couldn’t call him the harmless soft-in-the-head type. You’d have call him the scary soft-in-the-head type.
Putting his glasses on and swapping slippers for trainers, he took his rucksack to the shed where he fitted in the new stainless steel serrated hedge shears that he’d had shipped all the way from the States after seeing them on a late night infomercial.
‘Mind the gap… Mind the gap… Mind the gap…’
Eddie Removed his rucksack and held it against his knees then waddled into the carriage amongst the other passengers. All the seats were taken, so he huddled with the others in the standing area.
‘Seven stops,’ he told himself.
He disagreed with Judith. He didn’t suffer from agoraphobia. He just didn’t like being stuck in a place with people who didn’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.
‘The train is the best place to see the worst people,’ he told her during one of their sessions.
‘Tell me about them, Edward.’
‘There’s the drunk ones who sing and are rude to everyone, them who don’t give up their seats for elderly people or pregnant ladies, litterbugs, farters, and worst of all the. . .’
As the train slowed into Northfields he spotted a man on the platform still wearing his rucksack. It was big and stuffed full.
‘Take it off,’ Eddie muttered. ‘Just take it off.’
Turning away he listened as the beep sounded and the doors slid open. Passengers elbowed and shoved their way out as new ones elbowed and shoved their in. The doors closed again, and in his periphery vision Eddie could see him. The man was onboard. The rucksack was still on his back.
Looking down the carriage front and back, he noticed more of them. Grown men and women wearing rucksacks in a dense crowd as if it wasn’t a big deal.
Eddie called on the instructions Judith had given him for keeping calm.
—Breathe, Edward, deep and slow—
Pulling the collar of his shirt down, he closed his eyes and breathed but it was as if he were breathing through a straw.
—Walk away Edward, when you feel angry or scared, just walk away—
At every stop the man was pushed nearer to him. There was nowhere for him to go. Everything was closing in.
‘Just three stops more,’ he said aloud.
—Think of what makes you happy, Edward—
He had taken up gardening. It was one of the few active things he enjoyed. The garden was his sanctuary, pruned, clipped, weeded and mowed just as he liked it.
He eyed the man whose bag pressed into the face of a school boy. The boy’s mother talked loudly into her mobile phone, too busy to notice her child’s plight.
At Turnham Green the mother alighted dragging her son with his pretty hair all ruffled and his cheek reddened by the bag. The boarding passengers forced the man next to Eddie.
His bag brushed against Eddie’s shirt, popping one of the buttons off. Something inside Eddie’s head popped too and all he could hear was whistling noise, like a kettle that hadn’t been taken off the boil. He reached into his bag and pulled out the hedge shears. Too busy in their own affairs, the other passengers continued reading the papers, listening to music and slurping coffee, but an elderly lady looked up and saw the opened shears under the man’s wobbling ear lobes. Her scream had everyone turning to her then they looked where she was looking. In that instant all papers and coffee cups fell to the floor, and they ran in a panic screaming and shoving in every direction.
The man turned to see what all the fuss was about, aligning his throat with one blade of the shears and his spine with the other. Eddie squeezed the handles together with all his might.
Blood sprayed in an arc over the roof, the passengers and the windows as the head popped off and the torso fell forward, neck stump met the floor with a thud, and for a moment the lifeless form remained in a kind of adho mukha śvānāsana variation. Blood pooled around it, before a sway of the carriage crumpled it flat.
Eddie ran down the carriage after the next rucksack wearer. A woman with long blonde hair cowered in the crowd. He pulled her to him and her scream became a gargling noise as the shears cut her hair short, her head shooting off upon a crimson fountain. It bounced onto the lap of a business man, who flicked it off with his copy of the Financial Times.
When he attacked the third rucksack wearer everyone noticed that he was only after them. A struggle ensued whereby the rucksack wearers tried to remove their rucksacks while the non-rucksack wearers tried to stop them, fearing Eddie would become less selective and start chopping everyones heads off.
Eddie saw this action as a kind of grand gesture of togetherness. They were helping him teach a lesson to future commuters. They were helping him say, ‘guys, have the etiquette to remove your bag in dense crowds. Lower your music. Be nice to your peers. We are all in this together.’ He imagined how he would go down in history, ‘Edward Smith, The first of countless vigilantes whose small actions laid foundations for the great humanitarian triumphs that would bring peace to the planet.’
When the train doors opened at Hammersmith seven severed heads lay on the floor. In the hysteria to get out, a head was kicked through the doors and sent bouncing down the platform.
‘POLICE!’ they shouted, ‘POLICE!’
And as the crowd thinned Eddie glanced behind him to make sure sure there was enough space between him and the next commuter, and he slipped his rucksack over his shoulder and headed for the exit.