“Excuse me, I’ve booked a ticket for the 3.45 but, um, am I allowed to catch an earlier train because…” I trail off. Because I’m an hour early because I’m always an hour early and really, I prefer to be moving otherwise I’m alone with the voices that shout ‘you’re going to miss the train/ the train will break down/ there’s going to be a fire on the tracks,’ and so on.
“Show me your ticket,” the information chap says. He has a white beard and kind, blue eyes.
Handing over my ticket, I’m dripping with sweat and there are so many people and announcements and so much noise. I’ve taken another Piriton because I can’t stop sneezing and so I’m falling asleep but my thoughts and heart are racing and…
“You’re alright,” he says, handing my ticket back to me. “You can take any train. There’s one in five minutes, Platform Fifteen.”
“Thank you,” I say. Five minutes. Where is Platform Fifteen – oh, there it is, at the other end of the concourse. Lugging my huge bag, I run there.
“This train will divide and the front four coaches will go to one destination and the rear four to another destination,” the announcer says. Argh. Don’t even know what coach I’m on and no-one else seems to know either.
“You’re OK,” a middle-aged man says. He’s wearing a cream linen suit. “This is the correct coach. I always make that mistake too.” He smiles.
“Is it alright if I sit here?” I say. For some reason I’d assumed that the train wouldn’t be too busy and yet it’s packed.
“Of course,” he says.
He’s reading a book called British Victory in Egypt with Jane-Austen-style soldiers on the front. Mustn’t irritate him by trying to strike up conversation though. As if to warn me off, he falls asleep.
This was a bad outfit, I realise. I’m wearing jeans and I’m hot and sweaty. My feet are sweltering in my shoes.
It turns out that my companion’s wife has breast cancer. So we talk about that. And other things. I’m right about the book: it is Jane-Austen-time: 1800.
“Oh dear,” the message from Seb comes through. “My lesson has been cancelled but Mum has asked me to visit Grandmother. There’s a coffee shop in the station. Text me when you get there. I’ll be as quick as I can.”
And I’m excited to see him and if I have to wait for a bit, am OK.
Happy Friday evening everyone!
*2012. By Edward Marston. Number 8 in the Railway Detective series.