Family holiday, part three

Dad and I take the short drive from where we’re staying to Wauchope to pick my youngest brother up from the train station. The train has been delayed from the outset of its journey in Sydney, and won’t pull into the platform for at least an hour after its scheduled time.

When we arrive at the station there are a number of people sitting inside. We ask them if there’s been an update on when the train will arrive. ‘Twenty minutes or forty minutes from now, depending on which announcement you believe,’ comes the answer. I wonder how long these people have been sitting here with their bags.

We decide to sit outside on the platform. Dad loves trains. I love train platforms. I think of them as little islands of in-between, almost the same everywhere. The white edge and the yellow line painted on the asphalt, the hard benches — usually blue in New South Wales — and the people waiting. Today, a couple and their toddler and a woman leaving behind a man sit with us on the platform.

The announcement over the loudspeaker tells us we’ve got at least half an hour’s wait. We talk about train travel, about finding a journey as interesting as its destination.

‘Who lives in Wauchope,’ I wonder aloud. Dad types the question into his smart phone. Real estate agents, tourist information sites. But then profiles of people. A man in his eighties, several people in their fifties and sixties, just a handful of people in their thirties. It dawns on us that we’re looking at an online dating site. At first it’s amusing, but the more profiles we view, the more uncomfortable we become with our voyeurism. Soon, Dad puts his phone away, and not long after the train comes and deposits my brother on the platform. He has been travelling for thirteen hours, and all day has eaten just a piece of toast, a muffin and a coke.

It is not the names, nor the faces, nor the likes and dislikes of the people of Wauchope looking for love online that stays with me; it is their ages. Numbers. I wonder who is maintaining their profiles, whether they’re looking for a new start or whether they just haven’t found the right person yet. And I wonder at our discomfort, re-evaluate our sadness. Numbers. Still so full of hope.

~

Read parts one and two here.

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Signs

I just saw these complementary signs at a train station. It seems very pointed that they choose to both label the toilet as a men’s toilet AND specify that no women should enter. Is there a particular problem with women using men’s toilets in this area, I wonder? And was the second sign put up as a matter of course, or was there some sort of community discussion about it? I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of that council meeting…

The Train

The steam train spelled out a name that wasn’t his. Each of the little wooden carriages was a letter with a different grain and colour; all with knots, but none of them the same size or shape.

This was his favourite toy and he had cried when his mother tried to get rid of it. He was embarrassed that he had cried, but it had worked.

Before he played with the train he liked to sit and look at it. He would separate the carriages from each other and from the engine and sit them a small distance apart. He liked the way the timber in each piece of the train was like water, swirling and flowing in a different way to every other wooden stream.

The timber smelled like the small forest that sat behind his grandparents’ house. The back right wheel of the engine had a small squeak, like a baby mouse, he thought.

He sat with crossed legs and watched the stationery, separated little train, inspecting it for new scratches at the same time as imagining the boy whose name it spelt sitting on the floor and pushing it around. In his mind, the engine’s wheel squeaked like a chorus of mice; the train wheeled around corners, capsized, and was miraculously restored to the haphazard tracks it travelled. The boy whose name it spelt made all the appropriate noises with great gusto and no shame: he was lost in the world of the train.

The train would speed through the afternoon and the two little boys – the one whose name the train didn’t spell and the one whose name it did – would sit in the driver’s compartment together. Their hair would be full of knots and their faces covered in soot and grime. They would shriek in unison as they approached a very tight corner at a dangerous speed, and sigh with relief when the train finally pulled into the last station of the evening.

In the room where the boy whose name the train didn’t spell sat, the train’s engine and all its carriages were still separate. He now moved to join them all and slowly pushed the train back into its box.

Carefully he closed the box and put it back on the shelf in his cupboard where he kept his favourite stones. In the cupboard in his mother’s room was a similar wooden train that did spell out his name, but he had never played with it, despite much encouragement to do so. Only with his brother’s train could he imagine they were playing together.