(Original post by sammy-lou)
There is something exquisitely romantic about the decrepit village train station at 10 o’clock in the morning. The crisp morning bite is still in the air, but the morning’s commuters have long ago dispersed, scurrying out to their various destinations like ants from a disturbed nest. Trains continue to move according to their regular schedules, either coming to a halt at the platform, or speeding past with a penetrating blast of the horn.
It is usually only me on the third platform at this time; it is the penultimate stop from the end of the line, meaning that there is only one possible destination from here. The end is a destination much the same as the one come to
: a small station in a minor, insignificant town. Not many people wish to visit it – most people riding to the end of the line are school children, or commuters who all work in the same large office block in the town. It did not take me long, after I moved here a few years ago, to adjust my schedule so that it avoided the crowds of gaggling youngsters and miserable-faced 20-somethings. Misanthropic I may be, but this did indeed serve a purely practical purpose. I would physically feel my stress levels soar as I was the victim of yet another person’s blatant disregard for the ‘quiet zone’ of the train. The regular fare-evading I would watch as a tired train guard preyed on an innocent teenager who had misplaced their ticket, while the silent commuter adjacent to the prey sat in satisfied contentment that their own sin would go undiscovered for yet another day. The perpetual battle of the ‘Local Comprehensive Chavs’ vs ‘Private School Preps’. Window open or window shut? The ever-present lone shape shifter, who would always, without fail, sit in a six seat bay, when a two seat bay was available. For the sake of my own well-being and sanity, I would delay my daily travel by two hours, to avoid the infuriating flaws of people who I did not know, but felt I knew far too well.
I liked my schedule, and had grown comfortable with it. It suited me well, and I felt that I was doing my lonely train a service by boarding at this time, so that it continued to have a purpose. This was a responsibility I took upon myself with the greatest of commitment, and so I was understandably disturbed when I arrived at the train station on the morning in question, to find an individual sitting on the ground, with his legs dangling over the edge of the platform. I did not recognise him, and so did not understand why he was there at this time. It bothered me that he was there. I felt that maybe I should go to him, and ask who he was. Why he was there at 10 o’clock in the morning, when he had never been before. If he was intending to make this a regular occurrence.
But it seemed to me that this may be too personal. People do not like to make contact with other people unless absolutely necessary. People avoid not only verbal contact, but eye contact, geographical proximity, and certainly body contact. People are described in ecological and evolutionary studies as ‘social creatures’, but this is a lie. People are not social creatures at all, but more solitary souls that are condemned to socialise, because without this function we would go nowhere, and achieve nothing. People are not really human, but parasitic - feeding off the skills and energy of others, so that we can fuel our own movement in the direction that we think we should be taking. There would really be no use in approaching the boy and asking who he was and why he was there and if he was going to be there tomorrow or the next day or the days following.
But his presence continued to make me uneasy. I looked at the clock on the station platform: 9:53. The train that I get on every morning is reliable, usually turning up at 9:59 and leaving at 10:00 sharp. Underneath the clock is the live running schedule of the trains, and I was irritated to see that my train was delayed by 4 minutes. This meant that there were 11 minutes until the train would leave my platform with me, and presumably this boy, on board. This was unusual. I could see my seat a short walk down the platform, and I approached it, because my schedule was now disturbed enough, and I saw no reason to allow this boy’s presence to stop me from taking my usual seat.
I sat down, and was almost directly behind the boy, who was still sitting on the platform edge, dangling his legs over the side. I was closer to him now, and saw that he was wearing the uniform of the private school. This meant that he was late for school already, and the delayed train meant that he would be even later. I was happy to see that he was in school uniform. This meant that he would not be at the station every morning when I was, meaning that my schedule would return to normal. Good. I could see that the boy was about 16 years old, nearly 10 years my junior. He was quiet
small, but the whisper of facial hair around his jawline told me that he was older than his size suggested. He had a rucksack next to him on the platform, and I could see a pair of shiny black school shoes protruding from the bag. I wondered what he had on his feet. Probably trainers for walking to school, or for sports lessons. In between the bag and the boy was a pair of socks, unfolded and crumpled, as if they had just been taken off of his feet. This bothered me. Why had he taken his socks off? It was a November morning, and the frost was beginning to take hold. The boy was hunched over as if he were cold, but seemed to be making no effort to warm up. I thought that his toes must be cold. Maybe his socks had a hole in. And his smart shoes were rubbing through the hole, so he had changed in to trainers for a more comfortable journey to school. Maybe he was late because he had noticed the hole, returned home for another pair of socks, but not been able to find any.
I felt sorry for the boy, although his presence still annoyed me. I knew there were some socks in my bag, because I carry a spare pair of everything, in case it rains and my umbrella breaks, or in case somebody throws something at me and dirties my clothes. I found the socks, and held them in my hand for a moment. I could take them to the boy, and use the opportunity to make sure that he would not be here again tomorrow. Yes. I looked at the clock again. It was now 9:56, and the train was still expected at 10:04.
“Do your socks have a hole in them?”
His head shot round; he did not seem to have realised I was there. I was standing directly besides him now, facing towards him and looking down to where he was sat.
“What?” he said.
“Your socks. Do they have a hole?” I said.
He looked dazed, so I held out the socks in my hand to him.
“You can have these,” I said. “Keep them so you can put your smart shoes back on, you don’t need to give them back. You won’t be here again, will you?”
He continued to look at me, and now appeared suspicious. I looked down at his feet, and saw that he didn’t have trainers on, but his feet were bare.
“Aren’t your feet cold?”
He looked down at his feet, and fixed on them for 10 seconds.
“Don’t try to stop me,” he said.
“Stop you doing what?”
He moved his eyes slowly from his feet to me.
“In front of the train,” he said, pronouncing every syllable. He had an eloquent manner of speaking.
I paused, wondering what he meant. My hand was still extended, holding out the socks which he was ignoring. I dropped my arm, grasping firm on the socks consciously. I was troubled by this boy. He spoke in cryptic prose.
“That would kill you. Or hurt you pretty badly,” I said finally.
“Yes,” he said. Then: “It would probably kill me.”
I thought about this.
“No,” I said. “No, the train slows down as it pulls in, so it might not be fast enough to kill you. You’d probably hit the front of the train and be pushed along on the window until it becomes so slow that you fall on to the track, and end up half under the wheels. You’d probably have a 50/50 chance of losing your legs of your head. So, either paralysed or dead. I think.”
He was looking at the tracks now. I looked at the clock again. 9:59.
“You said that you didn’t want me to stop you, which sounds like you were going to jump in front of the train, even though you seemed to think it would kill you. Can I ask you something?”
“Why are you at the train station so late?”
“I’m the only person here every morning at 10 o’clock.”
“I don’t want to go to school.”
“I have to. It’s the law.”
“It’s the law to not jump in front of trains.”
He paused, then said, “Yes. But the only person who gets in trouble if I break that law is me. If I don’t go to school then my Mum gets in trouble.”
“If you jump in front of a train then you won’t be able to go to school. So your Mum would get in trouble anyway.”
“I’d be dead.”
The boy took in a deep breath, raising his shoulders, and heaved the air out of his lungs, moving his shoulders down as he exhaled. “Yes,” he said.
“Do you want my socks?” I asked him. I felt that the conversation was coming to a close.
“No. No thank you. My socks don’t have a hole in them.”
“OK,” I said, and went to sit back down, noticing that it was now 10:02. I put the socks back in my bag, feeling slightly relieved that the boy hadn’t taken them, because if he had, I would not have had a spare pair until I came home.
The announcement came over the speaker that the train was approaching. I stood up and moved to my usual position where I knew the train doors to my usual carriage would stop. I waited patiently.
The boy also stood up. He picked up his socks and held them in his hand. The train appeared around the corner. I watched as the boy picked up his bag and moved away from me further down the platform, away from the train. He stopped a few yards from me. He still had bare feet.
I faced forwards as the train pulled in to the station. The doors opened and I climbed on, as the boy stepped up in to the carriage that was next to mine. I took my usual seat and looked out of the window to check, as usual, that I had not left anything behind. I hadn’t, as usual. The train pulled out of the station.
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