Strangers on a Train
The train was steaming across the wide flat lands of the Prairies at an impressive rate. The time was nine o’clock in the morning, and the dining car was almost full. Two couples approached the porter asking to be seated for breakfast. He told them that there was only one table left, not making any suggestions as to what they should do.
Bill said ‘Well, I’m hungry and want to eat now. Let’s sit together. What do you say?” The other three nodded their heads, and said ‘yeah’ all at the same time. They were all hungry and did not want to wait for another table to be free.
They walked to the farthest table. The waiter gave them menus, which add more items on it than what they had expected. Bill looked at it briefly, and exclaimed, “Impressive selection. Look Lola, they even have porridge.” His wife responded with a screwed up face. She then replied with some fervour, “Bill, don’t you dare!”
The other woman, who had also made a face when porridge was mentioned, added, “My name’s Angie and my husband’s name is Ralph. And we hate that vile dish as well, don’t we Scott?”
Her husband replied, not with words but with a facial gesture of mild-mannered agreement. Hands were extended across the table in acknowledging that they had now been introduced.
They all ordered – no one uttering the word ‘porridge’, although Bill held the initial -p- of ‘peameal bacon’ for an unnecessarily long time.
They all received their coffee right away. Lola knocked hers right back and had her second cup in her hand before the others even finished their first. Not surprisingly, she soon had to go to the bathroom in rather a hurry.
Shortly after she left and walked her way down out of sight and sound, Scott asked Bill, What was that business about porridge?”
Bill chuckled and said, “She has hated porridge as long as I have known her. I’ve asked her about it, but she has never given me a straight answer.”
Scott looked at his wife, smiled and said, “Well, it looks like you two women have something in common. I have many times seen your face turn sour when you see someone eat porridge.”
Angie just looked down and said nothing, There was silence, then all three of them returned to eating their breakfast rather quietly, occasionally looking out the window to catch a glimpse of the broad, flat prairie lands they were passing by.
Lola returned. She seemed eager and anxious to introduce a new, predictable subject of discussion. “So what do you guys do for a living?” Angie replied for her and her husband.
“My Scott here”…she puts her right-hand on his left…” is an accountant, but is not as boring as that might seem.” She gave off a little forced laugh. “I am very much an amateur artist.”
At this point Scott interrupted with a “You’re talented and have sold some of your very beautiful paintings…making her paint cost tax deductible” There was some genuine laughter now. “What do you guys do?”
Unsurprisingly, Bill answered for both he and his wife, “I’m a lawyer, and Lola takes care of everyone who comes into the office of the doctor that she works for.. Now, where are you guys going? We’re headed for Calgary. I have business there.”
“We’re off for Edmonton. Angie has cousins there. Why are you taking the train?”
“We wanted to really see the land, not just pass over it in a plane as if it were of no consequence or beauty. And Lola writes, and wanted to describe the prairies in a story that she is working on.”
So saying, he glanced out the window as if to demonstrate the truth of what he was saying. There followed brief discussion of what the two couples had seen so far, and what they hoped to see.
Bill suddenly announced to the others and seemingly to everyone in the dining car, “I have to go for a pee.”
Scott soon piped up with his own sense of humour, saying “Now you’ve gone and done it. You’ve cause my bladder to speak up and its pressing needs. I’ll go to the next car.”
A Revealing Conversation
As soon as both of the men had gone, Angie said in deep earnest, “Now that the boys are gone, maybe we can talk about our dislike of porridge. Mine is a sad story, and I suspect that yours might be so as well.”
Lola just nodded in response.
Then Angie began her tale. “When I was four years old, I lost my parents. I was put in a group home for eventual fostering. That took a while. The home was hideous in so many ways. The runny tasteless porridge that they shovelled into our bowls and forced us to finish ever single morning, without fail, was just part of the nasty way in which I was treated. When I was finally fostered, I vowed that I would never eat porridge ever again.”
Lola’s smile lit up her face. “The same things happened to me. And I hate porridge for the exact same reason. What was the name of the place they put you in? It sounds a lot like where I was placed after my parents were put in prison for a long series of crimes, beginning with fraud, and including almost everything short of murder as well. I never saw them again, and to be honest, I didn’t want to.”
Angie’s’s face shone, but with equal parts shock and joy. “The place was called ‘The Harris Home for Children. Where were you? And what were the names of your parents?”
“I was there too.,.and…my parents’ names were Bob and Ruth Nixon. I had my last name changed to that of my foster parents, who were the first real caregivers I ever had.”
Their replies were becoming more and more rapid fire.
“Those were the first names of my parents too. I forgot what their last names were as I was only three years old when I was taken to the Harris home.”
They both shouted out the same words at the same time. Everyone in the dining car could hear. “Do you think that we are sisters?”
They then stood up and hugged each other across the table. They were no longer strangers on a train, but sisters on a long delayed reunion tour.