The Train Man

 Nobody was moving. Those sitting in my near-empty carriage took little notice of the automated warning to mind the doors, which slid shut compliantly with an hiss somewhere behind me, trapping us together in a tube of steel and electricity which surged relentlessly onward. For we were certainly trapped, that much was clear; it was only matter of somebody realising this and resigning, through looking outside at the trees and houses that rushed past, to the harsh reality that there is no escape.

          The train, it would seem, was designed with two intentions playing on the minds of the developers. One, that passengers should be able to arrive at their desired destinations in half the time it would take them otherwise- a most noble venture- and two, that all people should experience in their lifetime a few moments of complete helplessness; once the doors have closed, all faculties of self-reliance disintegrate within one’s mind. The train should, in fact, strike fear into the hearts of all passengers, simply because they cannot see and cannot determine that which is happening around them. And so it would seem that it is reasonable, therefore, to suggest that the safest man on board a train (excluding the driver, although he too only has limited power over his machine!) is he who already does not have the capacity to see.

          I was not such a person, but nonetheless sat, fresh-faced and without entertaining such morbid thoughts, looking out the window and at the people with whom I shared the carriage. A foreign woman sat in the seat adjacent to mine, her head buried in a book and paying no attention to myself or anybody else.

I wondered if she was ignoring her surroundings deliberately- asserting to us her cultural difference and her pride in it, or if she was too engrossed in her book to be interested in what was off the black and white pages. It didn’t matter, for I knew that there existed, in fact, only two types of people, irrespective of race or religion: Those who read books, and those who write them about what most miss as a result of not looking over the pages.

 Further along, a young man stood wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase- probably a lawyer, or something- and immersed in his newspaper, as if there was actually something new to read. His eyes darted up briefly to meet mine, albeit only to make it abundantly clear to me that I was bothering him.

But my story begins, in its full capacity, with the last of my fellow passengers. Just after my silent encounter with the lawyer, I became suddenly and uncomfortable aware of the temperature of the room. I was freezing, the pale, grey-blue sky going some way to explain why. I felt that a continuous, cold breeze, perhaps due to an open window somewhere. There was a dangerous, unforgiving ambience which had swept through the carriage, and I sensed what was about to happen before it did; the lights- somewhat dim anyhow, flickered and went off as we hurtled through a tunnel, rendering us all completely powerless and our senses useless.

This lasted moments. In due course, the carriage was returned to its inadequate state of illumination, and I blinked several times to grow accustomed to the light, allowing my eyes drifting slightly out of focus and then settling on the man sitting directly opposite me. I recoiled immediately in horror. An old pensioner with wispy white hair that sprouted more out of his nose and ears than the head itself, sporting an old tweed coat and black trousers. His face, wrinkled, pale and emotionless, was ancient. Past his prime, beyond his time, he sat in a way in which only old men can sit- with an hunched over back and his entire body suggesting that even sitting down was now a physical chore. His eyes were a pale greyish-blue, and they were fixed directly upon me.

          I kept my head down, wondering, in the security I had gained by looking at my feet, what I should do. A tentative glance back up at the old man confirmed that he was still watching me. Deliberation came slowly, for my mind was disturbed and disconcerted, but I concluded finally that the best course of action for the time being would be to simply stay put. There was no danger, as of yet- I was stronger than he, and we were not alone. So I sat, avoiding the man's unnerving gaze, distracting myself with the tear in the fabric of my seat. Though I kept watch out of the corner of my eye.

          On further reflection (for I could not help but look up on occasions), he was a disgusting man. His nails were long and yellow, flaunting the extraordinary impression of something which, although growing, appears to be rotting in equal measure. His teeth, yellow to complement his nails (or perhaps the other way round) were uneven and neglected. His mouth hung half-open like a sick man looking for sympathy, while his eyes continued to bore into me, as if he was staring at my soul, and disgusted by the sight. Those eyes, the only surviving testament to the emotion he might once have harboured, although now they were merely windows into a derelict, barren wasteland of hate. Looking at them, one could feel his emotions systematically be obliterated by their death-stare. Cold, icy, impassive- a scope into unending nothingness. It was like plunging waist-deep into a river on a wintry day.

          The man despised me, I was sure of it. He had ignored the other passengers on the train, focusing his attention entirely on me. In a sweeping moment of unprecedented certainty, rage overtook me, causing my arms and legs to shake, my face to turn bright red. I was seething, livid with the judgement the old man had exacted upon me based on an initial perception. Yes, he was blind. Blind to the simple possibility which was glaring him dazzlingly in the face, that I, like anybody else, was entitled to an unhindered train journey. I shook more vigorously, no longer remotely concerned with concealing myself. The woman with the book looked up for the first time, throwing me an enquiring and somewhat disdainful look, while the lawyer stood surveying me with something of a glint in his eye- as if he considered himself in a position to analyse my behaviour. All this did little to calm me, and I stood fuming and ready to confront the man.

          The automated warning, in actuality, can be fairly soothing. It sounded just as I had opened my mouth to speak, announcing the imminent arrival at the next station. I relaxed slightly, all the while unconsciously aware that the old man had risen from his seat. For several moments, I stood, wavering, my arms swinging lamely at my side. I collected myself in time to observe the man slowly reaching a thin, pale hand into a compartment above his seat, his back turned on me. He fumbled for a while, struggling with his brittle fingers to retrieve whatever it was he was searching for. Perhaps if it had been a different man, who hadn't been eyeing me so hatefully before, and I was of more sound mind, I might have helped him, and relieved his flailing hands of their misery and him of his humiliation. But this was not the case, and I remained where I was- the lawyer watching me with a look of horror etched upon his face, the foreign woman tutting with a similar expression beginning to play on her exotic features. Determinedly unashamed, I reverted my attention to the old man, ready to flash him my intimidating gaze. But it never came. Instead, I felt realisation, and a familiar horrified look wash over my face, hitherto red-hot with rage. I watched with shock, and my mouth hanging open, as the old man- those cold, infinitely remorseless eyes covered by dark glasses- unfolded his white stick which he had finally managed to extract from the compartment. My body rendered completely numb, I did not feel him push unintentionally past me as he made his way for the exit. Nor did I pay attention to the automatic doors, which slid compliantly shut with an hiss somewhere behind me as he left.

And so it was, like a sick man having accepted his fate, I retired shamefully to my seat, ignoring adamantly the white-hot glares of my fellow passengers, occupying myself with the tear in the fabric of my seat. There was no need to acknowledge them- they knew full well, like I did, that my state of illumination was now more than adequate.

But they despised me still. I was certain of this fact.

The End

0 comments about this story Feed