When I arrive at the station the train is already in despite there being twenty minutes before we leave. I buy a cup of tea and check my ticket: Coach D, seat 32.
When I find my seat it is at a table already occupied by two people. The woman is dressed smartly in a navy blue dress which fits her form perfectly. She is the personification of a business professional. Across from her sits a man in a suit and tie, his jacket hung on the hook by the window. The woman has to move to allow me to take my seat, next to her by the window. I can sense her frustration. She had placed her bag on my seat hoping beyond hope that no one would claim it and she wouldn’t have to sit arm touching arm with another human.
It is hot on the train and it takes me a few moments to settle. I try and take up as little physical space as possible. I remove my phone and headphones from my bag alongside my notebook, pen and the book I am reading.
And a banana. I place a banana on the table. I can almost hear the disapproval of my fellow passengers.
Before long the train fills up. An Indian woman and her son take the seats across the aisle. He is three or four years old and full of energy. His mother takes an iPad out of her bag and puts a programme on it for him. He has no headphones. We are all now also listening to his superhero cartoons. We momentarily unite in our disdain. A glamorous older lady takes her place behind them making a loud phone call about where she will meet her friend later.
Behind us, passengers I cannot see talk in a language I don’t understand, an animated conversation about I do not know what.
Finally, the fourth occupant of our table arrives. A boy-man aware of his own attractiveness. He pulls large wireless headphones from his bag and places on the table a large coffee he has brought from one of the stations’ coffee shops. He holds in his other hand a bag containing a sausage sandwich. He takes two ketchup sachets from his pocket and squeezes them liberally over it. How he eats it without spilling sauce down his black Adidas jacket is a miracle. We look away.
Fellow travellers in this small enclosed space avoid eye contact and interaction by all means possible. We long for solitude and silence, to travel without the inconvenience of others touching us, talking in outdoor voices, eating and drinking in our personal space.
I think, if only this train wasn’t so loud, so crowded.
I think, I wish I could afford to get the quieter, earlier, more expensive, train.
(A hang over from my more anxious days.) A slight shooting pain up my left hand side momentarily gives rise to the idea I could have a stroke.
I dismiss it immediately, no longer held hostage by this kind of intrusive thought.
But the thought makes me curious.
I take a moment to consider what would happen if I did.
If, here and now, I suffered a stroke. (Go with me).
I imagine the woman next to me jumping up, calling for help. From somewhere a traveller with medical expertise would appear making sure I was in the recovery position in the aisle. Someone would find my phone and call a loved on my behalf. Someone else would alert the train manager. The nearest hospital would be rung. The glamorous lady would put her cardigan under my head and my train neighbour would hold my hand. Someone would distract the young Indian boy with sweets, or conversation.
I would not be alone. I would be cared for.
Don’t ask me how I know.
I just do.
For all our masks and indifference and desire to remain separate and private something deeper would call out. Our humanity. Our humanness. My fellow passengers would make eye contact with each other. They would work together.
And I would be helped.
I would be cared for. I would know kindness.
As I look up at the people who sat with me, travelling through the rainy English countryside, my heart warms. What amazing people I get to travel with. What a privilege to be among fellow humans today.
by Raymond Carver.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Elli Johnson has been blogging at thehippochronicles.com for over 4 years. She writes about mental health, creativity, beauty and the chaos of family life. She is a professional child wrangler, (over)thinker, and tea drinker.
Elli lives in Liverpool with the river Mersey at the bottom of the road.
To find her newest and most exciting work, check out: patreon.com/thehippochronicles