This is it. The final connection. You shuffle your orange tickets between your trembling, flaking, ice-cold fingers and brush an unruly wisp of hair behind an exposed ear. A litany of tinny carols reverberates down the platform, and the scattered Christmas lights of reds, pinks, greens, yellows, and blues shudder in the foggy distance, falling casualty to the terrorising wind. You glance up and down the long platform. Once, a bustling conveyor belt of shoppers, workers, and commuters. Now, a vacant, eerie waiting room of infirm trains and feeble tracks. Even the shrill tannoy woman’s vocalisations, which were formerly spontaneous, piercing interjections, are reduced to hacking, wheezing splutters and coughs. You are completely alone.
You look up. Your eyes meet a bottomless pool of stardust, enveloped in silvery grey cushions. Your eyes begin to prickle. No doubt a combination of the dizzying effect of looking up too fast and the stinging, wintery mist, you tell yourself. What you would do to live up there. You envy the celestial, golden flecks that cling to one another; you despise the clouds that embrace and then travel to another corner of the sky. You have not experienced such freedom for a long time. Still, you inhale deeply. A frosty chill circulates through your arteries to your barely beating heart as you step into the steam.
The carriage is a procession of uninhabited seats and the windows are veiled by a dewy perspiration. “Three more stops” you whisper, clinging to a battered copy of Little Women. Your hand meets the lovingly, well-worn binding. You instinctively trace the intricacies of the cover. All at once, an overwhelming nostalgia takes hold and you are nine years old again, sitting on your Granny’s lap. It all comes back: her lavender scented shampoo, the ever-burning fireplace and the emerald green bowl that was always overspilling with toffees. The black font is her voice, whose threatening kindness shatters your emotional barricade. Two more stops to go.
Of course, she will not be home this Christmas. It is safer that way. This year, she must remain the old woman in the house at the bottom of the street. Her loneliness will smash the china plates in her cabinets, and she will spend her time dusting, polishing, and waiting. Still, you feel closer to her in this abandoned carriage. You are on your own, just like her. She is here, reading to you; only you.
The train screeches into stagnation. Another frighteningly quiet station, plastered with rainbows and restricting signboards. Alcoholic perfume drifts up the aisle, leaving you sneezing and choking on your own breath underneath a scratchy, steamy cloth. You blink, blink again, and shut your eyes, wishing to escape this claustrophobic sauna. One stop left.
An uncomfortable, stifling breeze wakes you from your unconsciousness. You glance down at your watch. The second hand stutters around the face, longing to be reunited with its golden counterparts, but it cannot move. It is stuck. It tries to tick; it tries to move forward, but it falters and falls back. A futile mission of existence; there is no hope.
Suddenly, the train halts and, all at once, you are surrounded by family. This is the moment you have been longing for. You drop your heavy baggage at the door and shut out the formidable wintery world. Your arms extend and you are caught by a caring, secure embrace. Magically entwined, an inexorable warmth fills your heart. You are home.
– Miriam Higgs
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