Tuesday, 6 December 2011
The first Sunday of Christmas
I am carrying a can of Diet Coke, a bottle of water, a packet of Maltesers and a flyer for a BBC Three TV show looking for people who are unhappy with how they look.
I walk onto the station platform. L is there, waiting for me to return with provisions. The skies are blue, the sun is shining and there’s a Christmas tree standing against the railing. As surreal as that sounds this is not a dream, we’ve just bought our Christmas tree and for the second year in a row are carrying it home on the train, which is due in 25 minutes.
A woman is pacing around on the opposite platform. Our eyes briefly meet. I’ve got her attention. Look away, look away. Too late.
"You live here?"
Yes, I say, in my best I’m-not-in-the-mood-to-chat-to-strangers tone.
The woman looks to be in her early fifties, is wearing a large overcoat and is carrying a plastic bag, if I had to guess I would say she was second generation Caribbean. I wouldn’t go as far as to call her brow beaten but she’s certainly weathered.Her accent reminds me of our mortgage advisor, whose name escapes me.
“I hate the place” she continues. “Too quiet, around here” she’s looking down the stairs now. “Nobody would find me if I was murdered.“
I nod and mutter something. I doubt if anyone has ever been murdered in Crews Hill. It’s basically a road of garden centres and pet shops.
She stares at the platform sign and takes a mobile phone from her pocket.
“They put me on the wrong train. And I end up in Bedford.”
Silence. L picks up and pretends to be engrossed in the BBC Three flyer.
“My friend went to Bedford too. And her mother died.“
We don’t respond.
There’s more silence. It’s a lovely, fresh afternoon, perfect for relaxing on a train platform not talking to crazy women.
“And I have a twin sister. They thought I was her.”
“Where are you trying to get to?” L asks.
“The West Indies she says. I’m going to miss my flight”
Although I have only just met her I feel very confident that this woman is not booked on any flight to the West Indies today.
She takes the phone out of her pocket, again doesn’t use it for anything and wanders towards the other end of the platform. I ready myself for lifting the 6-7 foot, £60 Christmas tree onto the train.
At 14.52.36, 1 minute and 24 seconds before the train she has been awaiting for a half an hour arrives, the woman disappears down the stairs.
I want to call out that the train is coming but don’t.
Our train, which is going the other direction arrives, I manage to get the tree on, prompting smiles from fellow passengers.
As we depart, and head home to a day of tree decoration, Christmas dinner and Brian Blessed’s Christmas top 40, I look out on the empty platform, and wonder what this woman, walking around Crews Hill in an old overcoat, and carrying a plastic bag and a mobile phone that probably hasn’t worked for years, is going to do with the rest of her afternoon.
Illustration by Gemma Luker