Saturday, November 19, 2005

The man on the train

There was a young man on the train to my parents' place - a wispy beard, a lop-sided walk and a voice too loud. He greeted everyone around him, asking question after question: 'What's your name?' 'Where are you going?' 'Are you married?' 'We could be brothers, we could...' Then back to the beginning again.
'You asked me that.' said the silver-haired man sitting opposite him. 'I've told you. You tell me.'
Andy, it transpired, lived in a care home. He carried his belongings in a black plastic bag - a dustbin liner - and he was going to the same town as me.
As the train drew into the station I told Andy that he could come along with me. But the silver-haired man helped him to the door and just before the train stopped slipped him a ten pound note. I hung my head, hoped no one would notice me and blinked to make the world become clear again. Sometimes kindness from a stranger is so poignant it smarts.

On the platform Andy slipped his arm through mine and said that he loved me and we lurched along, a four-legged unsteady animal, dragging my bag and his, into the lift and then across the bridge.

On the next platform Andy produced a pouch of tobacco and a packet of Rizzlas and begged a man to roll up a cigarette. On the next train he begged for another roll-up even though he hadn't smoked the first and after a long conversation he abandoned me and his plastic bag to sit in the toilet compartment. He was still there when the train stopped at his destination. By this time I felt partly responsible for him so I told the guard there was someone who needed help to leave the train. And that was how I left him. I am still wondering if he was persuaded off the train or if the guards gave up and let him stay, and he still travelling somewhere on a train with no intention of ever arriving anywhere.


Anonymous Jan said...

"Here's a fleeting image; a "here,now,gone" story, an unremarkable happening on a train that actually IS remarkable if you think about've created a glimpse into a story complete in itself.And like the best of stories, it leaves you wanting to know more. And I know exactly how you felt when the silver haired guy passed over the cash.Your phrase is exactly right; kindness, (before it soothes) can hurt more than anything. PLease write lots and lots more fiction like this Clare!! Jan

Mon Nov 21, 01:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must be a really nice person because I hide from people like that. I feel sorry for them, but dont know how to cope with them, so I would have taken one look at the poor man with the bin liner and dived into the next carrage. I suppose that makes me horrible.

Tue Nov 22, 04:22:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon: I have to confess that my first reaction was to hide too - and I had to make myself 'admit' to going to the same town, but I'm glad I took the plunge - helping Andy gave me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction in an otherwise very bleak day.

It also made me realise that people like Andy are valuable. Wherever Andy went people started to smile and talk. He was a catalyst for bringing people together.


Tue Nov 22, 08:26:00 pm  

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