It is impossible to be Northern Irish on a train.
On the surface you carry yourselves like a private funeral; paperback on your side, on his, a small sheet newspaper, unfurled. You note his newspaper. He notes your novel. You draw your own stray conclusions. They catch like hang nails and you remember the first time you heard a stranger curse, saw a drunk man, falling outside the People’s Park; realised that other people were not the same as your people. You pray that Mossley West and Antrim leave you be, content to stew in the grace afforded by empty seats. You place your bag, a Berlin Wall to the left. Engrossed in the sports section he misses the cue, leaving himself open to the advances of a large lady, with shopping. She sits, stretches and arranges her carrier bags like curious children around her feet. On the surface you are still a Presbyterian handshake: novel, newspaper, the addition of a takeaway coffee, each keeping carefully to its own small corner. Beneath the table you are knees and thighs straining against the lusty tracks, thrown backwards and viciously forwards, terrified by the prospect of an illicit clash.
It is impossible to be Northern Irish on a train. Jammed and sandwiched with no means of vetting the neighbours you are too close for politics. You nod once on arrival, once again on departure. Anything further might be misinterpreted.