Riding the Rails II

I’ve dozed, and jolt awake when we pull into New Pudsey station.

The car is crowded now, and I’m grateful my gangly legs and naptime drooling has kept the seat next to me vacant. I take out my phone, start a new playlist, shake my head to wake up and look about.

Beanie is in a seat across the aisle and one up from me.
He’s wearing all red today.
Pants, shirt, jacket. Socks. Everything.
The costume is tight on his thin frame, making him look like a villain from the DC comics universe, intent on kidnapping then eventually being destroyed by Batman.

Good natured to a fault, we like having Beanie along for the ride.
When we all get in that pissy mid tour mood, you can always count on Beanie to lighten up the room.
Backstage and grumpy, staring at our phones, he barges in and tells us we have to come look at the full moon hanging above Milan.

He hustles the merch, often shilling leftover shirts in the wrong sizes to fans who walk away broke and puzzled, wearing XXXL Indian Summer shirts like mumus.
And they were looking for Naked Aggression merch in the first place.

He’s squished against the window beside a large fellow, but cheerfully nodding to the frantic beats coming through his headphones, watching the green hills roll by.

He turns to his seatmate to point out a squirrel or maybe an outhouse, immediately spills a half can of Scrumpys Cider between the seats.
The big man half jumps up away from the spill, then nods to the aisle.
“Go on, go through then,” he says.
In his coarse northern accent it comes out gah froo den.

Beanie gets up to fetch some paper towels, and I am tempted to offer the guy my seat,  lest he break Beanie in half.  His forearms are thick as unsplit cords, covered in blurry mirrored lions.
Tattoos of the miserable football club that will let him down yet again this year.

But in a moment Beanie is back, paper towels and a new can of cider for each of them.
I watch them chat a bit then touch cans in toast. Soon Beanie has his phone out and is showing the chap photos of his dear departed Mackie.
The two of them now laughing at a video of the Terrier mounting then destroying another pillow.

People shut off their Ipads, finally break their gaze at the phones in their laps and just stare out the window at the land going by.
I watch them watching, see them taking in this rare moment of quiet without, alone with the scenery and their thoughts.

When they touch their phones again, it’s not to check their useless Instagram feed but to snap a photo.
Lamb noshing on turf; Cathedral spire lording over a thicket of Alders.
They picture themselves back home, Happy Hour at LoConda Verde, pulling out their phones and showing these shots to friends.
Knowing they can never put this into words.

Hell. The only time you see photos taken on a flight is when the passengers are collectively recording an Air Marshal dragging an overbooked passenger down the aisle, screaming and bleeding as he clutches at their ankles.

Now I take in all my fellow passengers, spying openly.
I gift them personalities and lives befitting my perception from this rear seat.

This guy, man on his way to break it off with his mistress: he twists the gold band around his finger clockwise as if shutting off a faucet.
The old woman crocheting on the aisle? Wearing a discreet half kilo of brown heroin tight against her pantyhosed thigh.

Here we have a young Vicar returning to his flock after a cleansing weekend in Ibiza, no secret save the bejeweld butt plug that twinkles just inside his boxer briefs.
That bored Bulgarian teen taps on a labeled ice chest, delivering a sparkling cornea to St. James.
A cloudy eyed widower waits to look upon his son one last time.

And what of us, our group?
Members of a third rated Cirque troop, heading to a muddy field just outside of town.
Me, I throw knives at a leotarded gal named Isla.

People are starting to gather their things, make their way to the doors as the countryside gives way to the gravel and concrete of the city.
I watch a young woman, maybe drinking age, get up.
She’s dressed defiantly, Doc Martins and torn tights, a rainbow tie dyed MDC shirt leading up to her harsh angular haircut. She got on in Manchester with some of the other people returning from Pride weekend. She pulls a black backpack off the rack, walks past me and waits for the train to stop, the door to slide open.

I’m writing this in the future. These people, that train ride, all in my past.
Just waiting for a miserable year to finally release its claws and slip back to hell.

To ride on a train again.
Through a foreign country, surrounded by strangers, sharing the same harmless air.

I would even welcome the brat behind me a whole 12 hour Trans Atlantic flight.
Kicking at my Upper Economy seat since Heathrow, yet I vow to smile at the kid as he hangs over my headrest and stares at me upside down for the whole approach into LAX.

Please Lord.
I will gladly take the middle seat between the Herbalife sales lady and the silent farter.
Just let me go, let me wander once again. I’ll be better.

Leeds station, the others trot off with guitars in one hand, wheeling luggage behind. Beanie balances a cardboard box of the merch on his head, walks his way through the train station with the practiced gait of a Mumbai porter.

I take a moment, use the excuse of kneeling to lace a Converse.
I see the girl who got off the train first.

A man and woman come to her.
She brings a hand to her mouth, then hugs her mother.
The girl raises her head to look at her dad over her mum’s shoulder.
The dad wipes a tear from his eye with a thick thumb, then envelops them both.

I finally have to look away.
I am intruding on something real, in the middle of the station, in the shadow of the Northern Line.
I cannot resist and look back again.

They start shuffling sideways, laughing now as they try to walk while still hugging.
Trying to travel, without letting go of each other.

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