Soon after moving to Manchester I settled into a routine of taking the tram to work. It’s a sardine fest full of smartphone zombies, but it’s fast and convenient and relatively cheap.
I used to take what was the Rochdale via Oldham line before they changed the lines – now it’s Bury via Victoria.
The tram has around 12 carriages, so the chances of encountering the same person on the same carriage one day after the next seems pretty slim to me.
But that’s what happened. I can’t remember the first time I noticed her. All I can remember was the consistent eye contact between us every morning.
She had this kind of old-fashioned elegance about her, like a 1950s film star. Curly blonde hair, blue eyes (not the look I usually go for, admittedly), always smartly dressed. An understated elegance. Sometimes she’d have bright red lipstick on, and it suited her, it wasn’t too much.
As the weeks turned into months, even though I didn’t particularly like my job, I used to relish the excitement of getting up in the morning, in the hope that I would see her again. For those ten or so minutes the excitement of our mutual glances made my day. Then she’d get off at Market Street and I’d continue on to Shudehill or Victoria.
In the summer of 2015 major construction work started at St Peter’s Square, and the trams only went as far as Deansgate Castlefield. I used to see her more often, because we both joined the rank and file of commuters walking through the city centre to our respective office destinations. At the time I’d have the album Wilder Mind by Mumford and Sons on my iPod, and this became my soundtrack to her. The songs even seemed to match the way she walked. I was smitten.
As coincidence would have it, I began to see this beautiful woman in other places, like in the Arndale Shopping Centre one evening. I nearly dropped my bags when i saw her gliding through the foyer in a glowing purple summer dress. Such elegance.
After several months of this happening, I decided I had to do something. She was always on my mind. But how could I realistically attract her attention without embarrassing myself? The last thing a commuter wants at 8:15 in the morning is to be hit on by a random stranger. It’s creepy. Plus, she always had her iPod in her ear. There was no access to her.
Once, when I ended up standing right next to her on the tram, an idea quickly came to fruition. I deliberately tapped her foot, then turned and apologised, as if it was an accident (it happens all the time when people are hemmed in so close together on public transport – it’s plausible right?). She gave me a smile that would have melted a glacier, and my heart skipped a beat, but nothing else happened. Nice try, but no cigar! When I told the guys at work they cried with laughter, then suggested that I try an approach that wasn’t verging on assault.
Towards the end of August the construction work neared its completion, and soon the trams would be rolling on through the city again, past Deansgate Castlefield. Many people had been put off by the prospect of walking to work, so the trams were quieter during this period. Once the route returned to normal, the tram would be heaving again, and I wouldn’t see her as often. My window of opportunity was closing fast.
I got home from work one day, thinking what could I possibly do to attract this woman’s attention. All I could come up with was something old-fashioned and possibly embarrassing. I had no idea if it would work. I could crash and burn with this plan. But, I’m a man who likes to use words, and there was no direct way to start an interaction with her. So, I wrote her a poem.
Nothing sleazy, nothing cheesy, just an amusing anecdote about the situation. Everything rhymed, and I was really proud of what I had written. But would I have the guts to use it?
The next morning, I waited at the tram stop for the tram to arrive. When I boarded, I couldn’t believe my luck. She was sat down at a window seat, and there was an empty seat next to her! That had never happened before. I sat in the seat next to her.
Five stops to Deansgate Castlefield. My palms were sweaty and I felt palpitations in my chest. I chanced a glance to my left to look at her. She had her head down, engrossed in her phone, with earphones in her ear. Completely oblivious to me.
As the stops came and went, and Deansgate Castlefield became a mere few seconds away, I closed my eyes and wondered if I would truly have the guts to do this.
As the tram arrived at the final stop, I decided I was going to do the wimpy thing – dump the poem (which was written on a greeting card and sealed inside an envelope) on her lap, then bolt up and dash off the tram like a frightened animal before she could react.
As I reached over to do just that, her own hand shot up to grab her handbag and our hands collided. ‘Oh’, she exclaimed. ‘Er..sorry’, I declared. I left the card on her lap and bolted as planned. I dashed through the crowd ahead of me and on to work, never looking back. My heart was racing and I was scared and excited all at the same time.
That night, after work, I lay in bed pondering, over-analysing, like I always do. What if the card fell off her lap and onto the floor? What if she never picked it up? What if somebody else found it instead? What if she read it, and was repulsed by it?
I wondered what her reaction would be on the tram the next morning, if she was on the tram at all. Would she feign indifference and not react at all? Would she give me a look of disapproval? Would she hand the card back to me? So many possible scenarios, each one plausible in its own right.
Somehow I managed to get to sleep that night. And then the next morning came.
I boarded the tram at my stop. Immediately I located her in the same carriage, sat down at a window seat, with someone sat next to her and a bunch of people stood between us. I saw her glance upwards at each stop. But she did not see me. I wondered if she was going to pretend it never happened, and that would be the end of it. But when the tram got to Cornbrook, one stop before ours, a ton of people got off and on and the carriage cleared.
She looked up and saw me. And to this day, I still remember her smile. It was from her eyes, not merely her mouth. It was more powerful than the sun on that August day, wrapping itself around me like a blanket.
I thought to myself, ‘Blimey, this might actually have worked!’
At Deansgate Castlefield I disembarked from the tram and turned back to face the others leaving the tram also. She got off, still smiling. We both said hello and introduced ourselves.
We walked together through the city. It turned out that she worked quite near me, so we had the same journey (I never figured out why she got off at Market Street when the nearest stop was Shudehill – that remains a mystery).
We talked about life as we walked – uni, jobs. She was lovely. She was everything my dreamy mind had hoped for.
As we reached the point where we would go our separate ways to our respective offices, I decided to take the final plunge. After all, I had gotten this far. I asked her if she wanted to exchange contact numbers and grab a coffee.
She smiled again, and said, ‘I can’t, I have a boyfriend.’
Its moments like these where the whole world is brought down to its knees. Your shoulders sag in resignation, you look down at the ground. It’s like emptying a glass of water down the sink – before it was full of something, now it’s empty.
Hiding my dismay, I managed to hold my resolve and jokingly say to her, ‘Well, better not show him that poem then!’ She laughed, and walked away. I was absolutely heartbroken, which is ridiculous because I didn’t even know her, but I had built things up in my head over months and months of glimpses and eye contact and childish fantasies.
I’ve since changed jobs and take a later tram, so I don’t see Tram Girl much these days. But when I do, and when she sees me, she still beams at me with a smile to rival global warming. And that’s a small victory for me. Because it shows that deep down the sentiment was appreciated, even if she is already taken.