Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The train to birmingham

The train to birmingham is a sad train. The scenery is beautiful - at times stunning. There is the countryside with its green fields and endless columns of trees, and ponds and still pools of water, and little villages in the distance highlighted by church spires. Even in the bleakness of winter, when the colours of nature disappear, the low lying mist lends an air of mystery to the surroundings.

But inside the train, the passengers are unhappy. We all avoid speaking to each other. We pretend to sleep, read papers, listen to music, play with our phones, or look out the window. Eye contact is avoided. You can sit opposite someone through the whole journey without acknowledging their existence. I should know. I am doing it now - and so is the stranger opposite me.

I have had strangers speak to me on the train twice. Both times it because their misery was so great they could not bear it in silence. One man was returning from a visit to his daughter, who he was only allowed to see once a week. He talked about her, how much she meant to him, how it hurt to be away from her, to have to say bye to her. Every sunday, he made a two hour journey to visit her, and then in the afternoon, he made the same journey back. Every sunday afternoon in this train, he said, he was the loneliest man in the world.

The other person was a young woman from south africa. She had come on a working holiday with her boyfriend, to spend two years of their lives here, travelling, working, just being together. But things had not worked out how she hoped, and that night, she was leaving him. She cried. She showed me the contects of her backpack: a passport, an open return plane ticket, a pair of socks. Maybe I will go back to South Africa she said. Their time in the UK had been full of disappoinment: there was never enough money, first she had to support both of them, they could never travel anywhere, when he finally got a job he never had any time for her. He is more concerned about his job than our relationship. I love him, but he won't change, and therefore it cannot work. Her phone rang. It was him. He wanted to know where she was. On the train to Birmingham, she said, I am leaving. He hung up on her. She laughed and wiped her tears. What a fucking fool I am, she shook her head. What is the matter? I asked. It's so fucking cold, and I forgot to bring my jacket.

I never saw her again. I don't know what she ended up doing. Meanwhile, my train is pulling into birmingham new street station, and I have just realised something. It's fucking cold today as well, and I have forgotten my jacket too.