The Journey Home
Unsurprisingly she has to stand for the beginning of the journey. With a five hour plus trip in front of her and a little ahead of her expected schedule she opts for a train an hour earlier than the one on which she has a booked seat. Given the bad weather, with likely worse to come later, other commuters have clearly had the same idea, and the mingled smell of drying clothes, factory made pheromones, and take-away food is making her feel distinctly queasy. Her feet are wet and uncomfortable and her back aching. At 13 weeks pregnant her bump isn’t showing yet and she’s not brave or brazen enough to ask the woman who had booked accommodation for each of her two five year olds (she knows the age of the twins because, with their mother, they are making plans for their birthday party next month) if they can squash up a little so that she can rest awhile.
Leaning against the edge of a seat with her briefcase and overnight bag between her feet she makes herself as comfortable as possible. Nobody comes to check tickets; they couldn’t get through the crush if they tried. In an attempt to make the journey go a little faster she, when the signal allows, checks her email, sends a few texts and catches up with twitter and Facebook. Having done similar at breakfast, with no chance to charge her phone since, she’ll need to do so once she gets a seat. Eighty or so minutes into the journey and her battery is at a critical 7%. She’s not too worried as familiarity with the route reassures her that at the next station stop a significant number of her fellow travellers will disembark. Stretching her back and reaching down to massage her thighs her mouth waters as she imagines the toasted sandwich and coffee she’ll buy once she can get to the buffet car. She usually buys provisions in one of the mini-supermarket outlets at the station but in her rush had no time today.
When, as predicted, she secures a seat, she decides to rest a little before anything else. She knows that if she kicks off her shoes she won’t want to put them on again but takes the risk anyway. Then, with her coat covering her and using her scarf as a pillow she sleeps for a while. Her bladder wakes her and grimacing she pushes her feet into the still squelchy shoes. Given the busyness of the train the toilet is remarkably clean and there is still some tissue left. There often isn’t. Her experience at the buffet car is less positive.
‘Sorry love I’ve been on the go since we left London. No hot food or sandwiches left I’m afraid and there are problems with the electric now so no hot water. You’d better stock up I’m shutting down soon.’
Drinking the bottled water and eating her crisps – these and an apple being all there was left to buy – she texts Paul to request that when he comes to collect her from the train he bring a fish and chip supper with him. Too late she remembers the electricity failure and a few minutes after plugging in her charger she notices that rather than a battery boost she now has only 4% left. Turning her phone off to ensure she has enough juice to contact Paul latter she dozes again. She’s so tired at the moment. Next time she rouses, the memory of a dream that includes beaches, sunshine and paella slipping away, the train is stationery. Although it’s dark outside it’s clear they are not at a station. The carriage is quiet now with only a few other passengers. The lights flicker and then they go out. For twenty minutes or so she sits in the dark her scarf pulled tightly around her shoulders. There is no announcement.
Following a few hope-raising stuttering attempts the lights eventually come back on, the engine too. Slowly but steadily the train continues. At the next station – normally 50 minutes from home but at least, she guesses, an extra hour away tonight – the carriage empties except for an older couple a few seats away. Nothing noteworthy happens for a station stop or two. At the third stop three men get on and sit at the table seat configuration just behind her own seat. ‘Why do people do that?’ It’s the same in an almost empty carpark when the new arrival parks their vehicle right next to yours.
Their conversation is loud. They’re not drunk exactly but have obviously had a drink or two and she hears the pop of the ring-pulls on their cans. Their talk covers fairly stereotypical ‘men together’ topics. To start with they share stories about their sporting and drinking abilities. If this was a television programme it would come with a ‘strong language’ warning and the 70-something couple share a look before each plugging themselves into their individual I-pads. After a few minutes the conversation turns to women and to sex. One begins by complaining about his ex. In competition his friends join in. Again the vernacular is colourful. She sits quiet and still hoping they will forget her presence. She is unlucky.
‘I like brunettes myself. Big tits an’ all. Not too keen on the clever bitch look, but I’d make an exception.’
The men laugh. The chair behind her shakes, the simulated masturbation of the speaker accompanied by groans and more snickering.
She looks towards the other carriage inhabitants but they are both engrossed in BBC drama and are unaware of the one enfolding in front of them. Deciding the only thing to do is move further up the train in search of the elusive train manager, or at least some other travellers, she begins to gather her belongings together. Before she is finished the train slows and the men rise to leave. To avoid their gaze she looks out of the window but this doesn’t protect her from further discussion of her assets and their desires.
She is shaking as the train pulls out of the station. Less than half-an-hour from her own stop now she turns on her phone and texts Paul. Never has she been so relieved to have a weekend at home. And next week, when she returns to the city for more meetings, she knows, without having to listen to any of the debates, how she will vote in response to the motion ‘to keep the guard on the train’.