Wednesday, 10 July 2019

On The Late Train to Somewhere

David Gower

 A straightforward black coffee please!


The almost empty carriage of the 10.30 pm train from the city to the depths of the countryside. The man sits alone and fumbles with the newspaper looking for a puzzle page to pass the journey. Nothing to see through the windows except the lights of the night and his own reflection in the double glazing. His two reflections gaze back showing tired faces.

Time to settle into the puzzles whilst this train, the slow one, rattled through the night across the points of London before settling into the monotonous drone of the main line.

The woman had boarded just before the doors closed and she sat a couple of rows ahead of him. He had looked up, registered her presence and returned to the newspaper. She was on the phone, not speaking loudly but on the phone nevertheless. This was the ‘quiet carriage’ where phone conversations should not be happening. Perhaps a meaningful look would get the message across. No need to engage in conversation with a complete stranger and risk a confrontation. Not what the Brits do.

Why was that man looking at her so oddly? How she hated being on the late train. Always the fear of drunks and lechers with no one at hand to come to her aid. Best to ignore him and continue the conversation with her sister.

“So it was good to see the girls again and hear of the new baby. The pictures were lovely and the wedding will be soon.’ In lowered tones she added “I want to keep talking because there is some man looking at me across the carriage, just say anything and I can ignore him for the journey.’

Twenty minutes into the journey that woman is still talking. What can she possibly find to talk about for so long. Another look across the top of the paper? The first meaningful look seemed to do no good.

“He’s looking again. Not doing anything but just looking at me every now and again. Talk to me, talk about anything but stay on the line.”

Crossword done – the easy one – next would be the cryptic. How that woman can talk. Not loudly like some people but just – you think she would have some thought for others – it is a distraction. Another look? To what purpose? Why did she not get the message? Almost an hour on the phone. Pleeeeeease!

The automated voice announced the next station. The woman rose from her seat still clutching the phone but fumbling with her bag and shopping. She was struggling but at last she would be gone.

The man felt relief and began to rise from his seat intent on helping her.  Young people were thoughtless but perhaps as time passed she would realise why he – and others like him – wanted to travel quietly. How quickly she had left the carriage, almost like a startled animal, but still on the phone.

No one else in the carriage and one more stop to get home. Then a taxi and bed. Bliss until the clock alarm signaled another commute tomorrow. How many years before retirement – paid holiday till the Grim Reaper knocks?

Rattling and rolling through the darkness and the rumble of the wheels crossing the river before his station.

Crossword done, doodles scrawled in the white spaces, letters O filled in and a moustache drawn on the face of the Prime Minister. These were proper things to do on the train rather than chatter endlessly to some invisible listener. Chuck the paper into the bin, pass through the ticket barrier into front of the station, head for the taxi rank and home.

The police officer watching saw the only passenger to have left the train. Something about suspicious behaviour towards a woman on the train. Her sister had called the police. 

“Would he come to the station….now? It would all be sorted out no doubt when the closed circuit footage of the train was viewed”.

Meanwhile an interview at the police station awaited. This late train had gone off the rails.


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