Wednesday, May 2

Apologise For Any Inconvenience

SOMETIMES THEY forget to put the heating on. In spring it’s not so bad. Although it’s raining outside and the wind is going, it is not so cold. The wind and the rain ganged up on me during my walk to the station. My suit and my hair and my forehead were wet.
The heating is turned off on the train.
The six-forty-seven is still sitting there, and it must be six-forty-eight or six-forty-nine. As soon as anything slips up a minute or two you can watch the people get nervous. I am quite immersed in my book.
A voice came over the PA and told us, in a safe accent, that the train in front – that had left the station not ten minutes before – had had to make a stop due to somebody ‘being taken ill onboard’. The voice was very comforting. There was very little to it. Calm. Wonderful late April calm. So what, everyone was going to be a little late into the office.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ came the voice again – it must have been the wars; calming voices survived, carried on, evolution, flustered people don’t make it to bomb shelters safely – ‘ I’m very sorry but the train in front is having to be taken back into the station. Someone has been taken very ill.’
Very ill. Emphasis. People twitch.
At least six-fifty-two then. There weren’t many people in my carriage. There was a man watching a TV show on his computer and another woman reading her book. She always sits next to me, in trainers, reading furiously. She goes through a few books a week; romances – you can tell by the colour of covers. She doesn’t look up either.
Wind is still blowing, chasing raindrops across the windows so that they wobble and leave jet-trails. The wind makes raindrops on the window look like fighter-jets whose pilots have ejected. They all go down.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, if I can have your attention again, please. I regret to inform you that a lady on the train in front has had a stroke. That train will not be leaving and all the passengers from it will get on to our train. I apologise for any inconvenience.’
The calm voice apologised for any inconvenience.
I could no longer concentrate on my book. I was prone to look up into the air, into the sky, but I was not looking at the sky. I was not looking at anything.
When it rains so much the puddles play with one’s senses. They reflect the sky, so grey, so unimpressive, so that the ground is strewn with the sky itself. Down has its own version of Up.
Passengers from the other train began to get on to our train. They filled it.
There was no ambulance. Waiting for an ambulance in the rain. Who looks after a stroke victim in the rain? Was their umbrella big enough for the both of them?
Passengers who ten minutes ago had been warm on their train were now running down our platform to get to their preferred seat. Businessmen, young people, ruffians, methadone addicts, labourers, fanatic cyclists, and at last the ticket inspector. The rain came down.
A year or so ago they started to show these public-awareness films on TV that told you what to do in case of somebody having a stroke. There was a forgettable acronym, too. The silence of a carriage sharpened by the chattering teeth of a stroke victim, in the thralls of it. Her face contorting. She slips to one side and starts to collapse and shake. I don’t know if their teeth chatter. I imagine they do. The sound of them, rattling.
It was difficult to sleep on the train.
People at work asked me what had happened to the trains in C—. I told them. They continued to talk about all the delayed trains. When you have to get a train to work I suppose their performance becomes of great importance.
What I could not shift, though, was that, with the morning rain falling and all the passengers transferred, I could not see an ambulance in the train station carpark or anywhere. She was somebody’s mother. I thought that she was probably someone’s mother. That was most likely. And the rain continued to fall on an empty carpark.

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