Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Waiting for the 9.03



Dorothy Davies

Steaming hot water

There is nothing as heartbreaking as a train whistle at midnight across a desolate lonely countryside. Nothing tears at the heartstrings quite as much as the sight of the brightly lit windows making a streak of light as the train clacks and rocks its way along the glittering rails. 
            Nothing draws the wanderlust out of the soul of someone more than the thought of the train travelling through the night to far off places where the people are different and colourful, where the food is exotic and the weather erratic and hot, where the language is like molten silver in the ears and you cannot understand a word of it.
            Nothing is more lonely than standing on the platform of a deserted station and feeling the ground vibrate as the midnight train races through without so much as a nod toward a place where it once stopped to let people off, let people on and to top up with water and coal.
            It’s been a long, long time since a steam train went through here. I know, I have stood here many a long year watching for the steam and smoke rising above the horizon, hearing the clicking of the rail that said ‘I’m coming/I’m coming’ and it was, in all its heat and noise and steam and coal dust glory. But no more.
            I stand on the platform and dream of days gone by  Days of steam and fashion, of porters and guards, of slamming doors and shining wheels that sing their message as they click and clack their way down the lines that lead to – anywhere else but here.
            And I play, ‘do you remember...’

Many a year ago I came here day by day to board the 9.03 train for London and work and people and bustle and taxis and everything. So sophisticated, stiletto heels and bucket bag, those huge handbags we all carried at that time, stuffed with everything the girl about town needed, including a book. Everyone carried a book or a paper. It was not done to speak on a train; you buried yourself in the words and did not look at your fellow passengers. The great engines huffed into the station, metal dragons tamed by man, all steam and smoke and coal dust. With much slamming of doors we would climb aboard, find a seat if we were lucky, hang from a strap or the overhead luggage rack if we were not, book in the other hand, immersed in the words. Outside the whistles and slams went on, the last minute passengers running for a compartment, any compartment, until the final blast and the dragon found its breath to carry on its journey.
            It was on one of those days I saw her. She was standing at the very end of the platform, alone, lonely. I wondered all day why I thought she was lonely. She was wearing vaguely old fashioned clothes, as if she had come from another time almost, but that was stupid, wasn’t it?
            Wasn’t it?
            I looked for her when the long frantic people crushed day was over and I got out of the train. She wasn’t there. Had she got tired, or had the person she was waiting for actually arrived and they had gone off somewhere? My imagination was working overtime. I created all manner of stories over the weeks that followed, all wild and wonderful and no doubt every one of them a million miles from the truth.
            Then I saw her again. Same clothes, same sad face, same point on the platform. I wanted to speak to her, to find out why she stood there, what she wanted but the crush carried me onto the train and London-bound before I could get near her. If I had, what would she have thought of a stranger asking such personal questions?
            The biggest question of all was; why was she getting to me?
            As we – I say we meaning that dragon puffing steam and coal dust and the motley collection of commuters being dragged along behind in carriages that were close to being cattle trucks – came into the station, I realised what was getting to me.
            The woman was my twin.
            If I was to go to a ‘vintage’ shop and buy a similar outfit and stand next to her on the platform, no one would be able to tell us apart.
            The thought was scary.
            I looked for her day after day. She wasn’t there. I went to work feeling oddly empty, something missing, something needed filling and only she could do that.
            But I didn’t know who she was. How could someone I didn’t know be responsible for my feeling empty and lonely and lost?
            How could someone I didn’t know look so much like me?
            It was about that time I began to change my clothes. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it was just that the clothes the woman wore seemed more attractive to me than the mini-skirts, tight tops, stilettos and everything I had been wearing.
            The people on the platform, the people on the train, hardly gave me a second glance when I wore the different clothes and it was about then I realised that as commuters we were all anonymous. The only thing which had character was the train itself, the huge puffing dragon which towed us back and forth from our station. 
            The ‘modern’ clothes were discarded, binned, handed in to the charity shop, depending on the state of them at the time. The wardrobe became filled with 20s clothes, elegant, pastel coloured suits and beautiful blouses, the small hat perched on a new (to me) hairstyle that suited the suits better. Flowing dresses with long strings of beads. I looked more like the woman on the platform than ever before.  It bothered me and yet it felt right.
            I saw her again one morning as I was waiting for the 9.03. She smiled and gestured to me to walk over to her. I did, pushing my way through the commuters who turned away in their studied indifference to my passing them by, jostling their papers and briefcases, brushing against their arms or back.  I was all but invisible.
            She smiled widely when I reached her and held out her arms. Without thinking I walked into her embrace.
            And changed places with her.
            I watched her walk back to my place on the platform, watched the steam announce the arrival of the 9.03, saw her climb on board with a smile for the man who stood back to let her get on first.
            I’ve been here ever since.

Nothing is more lonely than standing on the platform of a deserted station and feeling the ground vibrate as the midnight train races through without so much as a nod toward a place where it once stopped to let people off, let people on and to top up with water and coal.
            It’s been a long, long time since a steam train went through here. I know, I have stood here many a long year watching for the steam and smoke rising above the horizon, hearing the clicking of the rail that said ‘I’m coming/I’m coming’ and it was, in all its heat and noise and steam and coal dust glory. But no more.
            I stand on the platform and dream of days gone by  Days of steam and fashion, of porters and guards, of slamming doors and shining wheels that sing their message as they click and clack their way down the lines that lead to – anywhere else but here.
            And I play, ‘do you remember...’
            When I looked for the arrival of the 9.03 and saw a woman out of time standing on the platform waiting, waiting, waiting...

Dorothy Davies lives on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England.  There she works as an editor, writer and medium, channelling books from the rich (and not so rich) and famous from all eras of history, ancient through modern.  Her novels are available from Amazon. She edits and features in Static Movement anthologies.

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