“Our life is a constant journey, from birth to death. The landscape changes, the people change, but the trains keep moving. Life is the train, not the station.”
Unrelenting darkness crawled over the empty platform as the last train rocked its way wearily into the station. The engine wheezed and hissed, sending sheets of diesel-stained snow sliding from its roof onto the icy tracks. A solitary light bulb hung defiantly above the station’s café refusing to give in to the night, illuminating the snowflakes as they whirled around it like tiny moths.
Lionel, who ordinarily enjoyed working the late shift, pulled at his tie, loosening the knot. The knot in his stomach, however, was unrelenting. He flicked switches and turned dials sending the engine to sleep. He was a podgy little man, the wrong side of sixty, with a round face and a reddened complexion. His rail-company uniform hung too long in the trousers as his waist was out of proportion to his height, causing them to bunch up on top of his shoes. The sleeves on his blazer were turned up at the ends, discreetly held in place with safety pins. His mother’s handy work.
The engines single windscreen wiper made one final sweep, squeaking against the filthy glass before coming to rest. Lionel gathered his belongings, arranging them neatly into his briefcase. He hadn’t been required to have his belongings in a briefcase as the rail company issued all drivers with a brown satchel embossed with the company logo. His mother had insisted on it when he landed the job.
“You’ll need to impress everybody on your first day Lionel.” She had said, bursting with pride, as she packed it neatly with foil-wrapped sandwiches and a tartan flask. “Remember what your dear father always said? You only get one chance in this life to make a first impression.”
He closed the lid and thumbed the worn brass catches making them click. He opened them and closed them again. Just to be sure.
The rhythm of the station got inside you if you worked there long enough. Maybe tonight he could pluck up the courage? The knot inside him tightened.
Except for a tiny brown mouse who picked his way silently through long-forgotten teaspoons and empty sugar sachets beneath the glass-topped counter, the café was deserted. Its windows ran with condensation. A huge copper tea urn clicked on automatically, puffing out steam like an old engine. Half a sausage roll had been dropped and discarded under one of the tables. Its aroma, it seemed, was enough to rouse a mouse from his cosy slumber. Rose, however, was oblivious. She cradled her tepid coffee, lost in a tattered romance novel only a few pages from the end. She knew it word for word. She was a podgy little woman, the wrong side of sixty, with a round face and too much make-up. An attempt to disguise her reddened complexion. Her rail-company uniform looked as if it were straight from the nineteen forties. Which she loved. It was too big for her as her waist was out of proportion to her height. She had safety pins lifting the hem, hidden discreetly under her apron. A trick her mother taught her. Forcing herself back to the present she glanced at the clock, only to confirm what she already felt in her stomach. The rhythm of the station got inside you if you worked there long enough. The final train of the evening had arrived. Maybe today she could pluck up the courage?
A menacing wind patrolled the empty station. Poking around in the corners, it picked up a newspaper discarded on a bench and pushed it onto the tracks before moving off into the darkness. Lionel turned up the collar on his blazer and pulled down on the peak of his cap. The wind, like a playground bully, pestered him, tormented him. At the other end of the platform, through the whirling snow, the warm lights of the café looked like a small boat on the horizon. His stomach turned over. He'd practised this a thousand times. All he had to do was go in, order a cup of tea, and strike up a conversation. Easy.
Rose straightened her apron brushing away the biscuit crumbs. The wind pushed at the café door forcing it to swing open, allowing a small flurry of snowflakes in. They danced briefly in the warmth before laying themselves delicately down on the red-tiled floor. Rose forced the door shut with her shoulder and slid the latch across as the wind tried in vain to bully its way back in. She caught a glimpse of her reflection. The wind rattled at the window once more, laughing at her. She glanced at the clock. Had she got time to straighten herself up? After all, as her mother always said, you only get one chance in this life to make a first impression. She had watched him pass the café a thousand times. But tonight, Rose would be ready and waiting. As she headed for the ladies’ room, the knot in her stomach tightened further.
Lionel peered through the steamy glass into the empty café. It was deserted. He watched a tiny brown mouse scurry out from under one of the tables while the wind probed at his uniform for a way in. In one hand he clutched his briefcase, in the other, a single red rose. “A rose for a Rose” he muttered under his breath. A small grin crept onto the corner of his mouth making his podgy cheeks crinkle. His heart thumped as he pushed against the door. It was locked. He pushed again.
Rose stared at herself in the mirror. The constant steam in the café had made her greying hair frizzy and she smelt of sausage rolls. It was late. She could hear the wind pushing at the door in the café. "Who are you to trying to kid Rose?" She said to her reflection. "You're not some character in a romance novel. You’re just a sad nobody who works in a station café.” She leaned forward to the mirror. “Why would any man want you? You look like your mother.”
With the snow stinging his face, Lionel pushed again at the door. Staring at himself in the window, he’d started to shiver. “Who are you trying to kid Lionel?” He said to his reflection. “You’re just a sad man who drives a train into the station. You’re a nobody.” He leaned forward and pressed his head on the glass. “Why would any woman want you? After all, you still live at home with your mother.”
The unrelenting darkness swallowed the empty platform completely. The solitary light bulb that hung so defiantly above the station’s café, refusing to give in to the night, illuminating the snowflakes as they whirled around it like tiny moths, went out. A menacing wind patrolled the empty station. Poking around in the corners. From a bench outside the café it picked up a single red rose and pushed it onto the tracks before moving off into the darkness.
“We're trains on two different tracks, living parallel lives, only passing by. I have dreams of a head-on collision, one where the brakes are hit just fast enough so neither one of us is completely destroyed.”