Wait­ing for a train

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Short Story Section -

I WAS in con­trol. At peace. A cargo train came clat­ter­ing along the line across the road. I was aware of its ex­is­tence but had been tun­ing it out. It came fully to my at­ten­tion when its squeal­ing be­came deafen­ing. I con­tem­plated putting my fin­gers in my ears. I smiled at the young lady be­side me. A lame at­tempt at com­mu­ni­ca­tion. I glanced over and half-ex­pected her to have her fin­gers in her ears. She didn’t. She was not try­ing to get my at­ten­tion. No one was. They were wait­ing for trains.

The cargo train was now at the peak of its nois­i­ness. But un­der­neath the sound was an­other one. It was the bel­low and song of a crackly ra­dio sig­nal, or the boom from the sound of a loud­speaker drift­ing in the wind. It came in and out of fo­cus. It wasn’t mo­men­tous, this se­cret broad­cast of the cargo train; but I felt happy for the ex­pe­ri­ence; it seemed like some­thing that you might write about later on. I felt in con­trol, some­one who ca­su­ally no­ticed strange phe­nom­ena in the midst of the mun­dane and didn’t even shrug.

I went back to pre­tend-read­ing. It wasn’t pre­tend read­ing be­cause I wasn’t pre­tend­ing, but I may have well have been. The book was a point­less waste of weight in my bag be­cause I never ac­tu­ally read it. I car­ried it around with the in­ten­tion of read­ing, but then I only stared at the pages be­cause I was in a daze of un­think­ing. In to­day’s daze I didn’t think I was think­ing, I thought I was quite pos­si­bly read­ing, but then I re­alised I was think­ing about read­ing, not read­ing. I was also think­ing that it was too bright and that my skin was sticky with the heat.

In pub­lic I spend a lot of my time try­ing to act neu­tral and not bother them; them, the oth­ers, the peo­ple around me, while won­der­ing if they are pro­ject­ing onto me too. Are they won­der­ing about what I’m think­ing? Are they aware that I’m aware of them? I hoped that I hadn’t moved away too much when the girl sat down. I of­ten did that. I won­dered if she al­ways caught the train. I watched her flick­ing her bus ticket be­tween her fin­gers. She was chew­ing gum. I wanted gum. My mouth was dry from the heat.

I didn’t feel se­cure any­more. What would hap­pen when the train came? Be­ing at a half­way stop, it was un­likely the train would stop for long. What if no one else got on or off? What if it started mov­ing while I had my leg in the door?

I had never caught a train in this city be­fore. I had al­ready spent the last ten min­utes re­al­is­ing that my boyfriend had in fact been right, when he told me about the trains, be­fore I left. There were no ac­tual signs on the plat­forms, he said. “It’s con­fus­ing there. You won’t be able to tell which plat­form. …Just don’t get on a train to Noar­lunga.” Good ad­vice; good ad­vice. …When I got to the sta­tion I strode around con­fi­dently for a while, be­fore ask­ing a lady which plat­form to go to. She gave a sug­ges­tion and I headed off.

I found one of those speak­ers where you press the but­ton and it lists how long be­fore each train ar­rives. The plat­form was eerily silent. The heat suf­fo­cated all noise. I pressed the but­ton and the au­to­mated voice listed the train times in a self-right­eous voice. The heat seemed dis­turbed. I scut­tled around the cor­ner of the shel­ter be­cause the voice was still go­ing and I was em­bar­rassed by it.

At this point the train came. I was glad that the girl was there, be­cause I could fol­low her. There was a but­ton on the side of the car­riage which you pressed to make the door open. She pressed it. I wouldn’t have known to do that. I stepped in be­hind her. The doors shut be­hind us. The car­riage was full and ev­ery­one was look­ing at me. No they weren’t, no they weren’t. …I re­alised I only had coins and there was no coin stand at this end. I felt in­se­cure. Then I got over it and walked down the length of the train, like I knew what I was do­ing, like I would find a coin stand, like I could do any­thing.

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