Comment: The guy on the train

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‘You’re advised not to travel by train today.’ Notifications of rail strikes and ‘planned disruption’ were all over the media. I’m not a big risk taker so felt it wise to heed the warnings. I patiently worked my way through an ongoing exchange of emails to rearrange an important face-to-face meeting with a potential new client based in London. Undeterred I agreed to a new date for the meeting, while hoping and praying that the opportunity hadn’t been blown.

‘Your return train has been cancelled.’ The email pinged in at 5.00am, 45 minutes before my alarm was due to go off. My initial disappointment at losing precious moments of sleep was instantly over shadowed by a wave of mild panic, followed by a double shot of adrenaline, a coffee, a quick search for alternative trains and a few deep breaths. Undeterred I set off for the train station, while hoping and praying that I would somehow be able to find my way home.

‘Your outgoing train has been delayed by 40 minutes’ announced a very apologetic voice over the tannoy. I found a seat on the platform, watched the world go by for a while, and listened to the repeated apologies. Undeterred I got on the train, while hoping and praying that the delay wouldn’t make me late for said meeting.

Long journeys hold a special sort of dread for me. All my life I’ve suffered from chronic motion sickness. And I don’t use the word suffer lightly. Travel pills render me almost unconscious so I’m left with no other options but to manage the process by practical means. I must travel on a completely empty stomach, keep my eyes firmly shut for the entire time and keep my head, neck and body as still as I possibly can. In addition to this I practise the deep breathing exercises which I’ve previously used during 19 hours of un-medicated labour. It may look weird but hey, lots of travellers nap, so I just kind of zoned out all the way from Manchester to London.

Upon arrival at Euston there was a 20 minute queue for the toilets and a 20 minute queue for a taxi. This involved the mildly inconvenient but mostly pleasant and settling experience of standing on solid ground with both of my eyes open. Both of these tasks sit well within my skill set and I completed them with a great deal of satisfaction. The meeting involved chatting to lovely people about creative things. Also good. Another 20 minute queue for the taxi back to the station was followed by a 20 minute stop-start journey over every speed bump in London, but I just about managed to keep myself together.

Another long queue for the toilet. Another long queue at the ticket office. A forward facing seat is vital for me, but my attempts to book one on a later train failed. I explained to the ticket attendant that standing up for the journey would likely cause me to puke and pass out, but he’d obviously heard that one before, and told me seats were pot luck. Then a helpful member of staff intervened and suggested I tried to board the next train north which was leaving any minute now. Running wasn’t allowed in the station, but I did my fastest walking dash and arrived at the platform just in time. The train was filling up with disgruntled travellers.

There were no empty seats left but it was absolutely critical that I got my bum on a seat before the train started moving and my innards along with it. With just moments until departure I quickly squashed myself into a tiny space on the floor and managed to lean my back against a lumpy pile of luggage. Another weary traveller came to mind, a pregnant refugee longing for rest and safety. But there was no room at the inn for her, she had to make do with the only lowly place she could find. As fellow travellers scurried around or stepped over me I pondered the significance of this bottom-of-the-pile story anew.

By now the repeated assaults upon my system were beginning to take their toll. My head ached from lack of food. My stomach felt like a washing machine. I really wanted to go home. I told myself that I had to stay on that train no matter what happened.

A man was working on his laptop just a few feet away. He was chatty and friendly and asked me if I was ok. He was a kindly presence. His appearance, voice and manner were so much like one of my relatives that I had to do a double take. He was a comforting presence. A mobile fan was linked to his laptop and he asked me if I would like him to aim it at me so I said yes please. He was a generous presence. That cool breeze was precisely what I needed. When it was time for me to get up from the floor he stooped down and offered me his enormous hand. I took it. He lifted me up as if I was just a doll. He was a strong reassuring presence. He didn’t know about my difficulties that day, he was just a guy on the train, but he seemed like an angel to me.

Main photo credit: Victor Rodriguez via Unsplash

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.
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