Commuting between London, where I work, and the coast, where I live, can be an arduous task at the best of times. A five hour round trip is a big chunk of day. And when that five hours turns to just over six because of delays, you really notice it.
Currently, during the winter months it is dark both journeys – just a deep unending blackness out the window. Nothing to see. For all I know I’m not really travelling anywhere, as once the carriage doors shut, it could be that half the employees of the train company just rock the train back and forth in the darkness while the other half construct some London type scenery for the journey to end at. But maybe that’s me being paranoid through lack of sleep. They wouldn’t really do that. Would they?
The only thing the two hour journey offered was time to think and write. More often it was an opportunity to catch up on sleep, less so in the morning, however, the returning evening train was always full of exhausted people pretending to read but really they weren’t, because the carriage was warm; its rocking movement soothing; their eyes getting heavier, and heavier, and heavier; the rhythm of their breathing more subdued; slower, in… and out… in… and out. Dreaming of home and nightmare… the train stopped.
But we’d be on our way again soon.
Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes passed without anything happening, only the odd polite cough puncturing the silence. There was no evidence of the train company employees moving the scenery outside. Where had they gone? We’d been left in the black void, we had no idea where we were, some sci-fi geek suggested a point in the outer galaxy – he was being serious – but then the stars in the sky he’d attempted to navigate with turned out to be distant street-lights.
The intercom squawked: the train driver announced he had no idea what was going on,
for the time being…
So, everything had stopped, maybe even time itself.
There then took place a flurry of hushed mobile phone conversations, with passengers explaining to their loved ones that they’d be late but just how late, they didn’t know – for time had stopped.
We then heard there was a fire in the tunnel at Crystal palace which was suspicious: it wasn’t the first time a non-flammable structure had caught fire in Crystal Palace – in 1936, the large metal and sheet glass greenhouse, after which the area was named, was also destroyed by fire. But this fact was just a distraction to take our mind off the ghostly footsteps that could be heard trudging the gravel outside the carriage: something was walking the length of the train. People’s eyes widened in horror, sweat ran down the walls and condensed on the cold windows. No one dare wipe the mist to get a better view. And then the train suddenly started moving backwards.
“Don’t be alarmed,” announced the driver, “we are being diverted.”
And so we (allegedly) went back two stops in the blackness and then forwards again to the main hub station, East Croydon, via another line some 30 mins later. But the train timetables had become all mixed up by now and it became evident that the rail employees weren’t ready for us as they were still in the process of building the walkway between the platforms at the station.
Our train slowed down, pulling into a scene of chaos, with waiting commuters wandering the platforms like zombies; all the platform staff had locked themselves in their little glass booths – apparently the ‘fire’ in the all brick tunnel had burnt out the train mapping and communication system which meant there was no information on arrivals, departures or anything. The array of TV monitors showed static, the overhead platform information devices were blank – thinking quickly, I ran up to the main ticket hall only to find the complete bank of departure boards were filled with red ‘X’s. It seemed like the end of the world.
The platforms were becoming more and more crowded; the zombie commuters getting impatient, pointing at the anonymous trains, asking:
“Where does this one go?”
To which no one had an answer. The holed-up platform staff looked worried in their tiny fragile glass booths – it would only be a matter of time. And so came the following shaky announcement:
“We will try to announce trains as they arrive…”
Now commuters do not like to stand on cold platforms for too long, they get edgy, they are commuters – it is in their nature to commute and to commute they need trains. So, people were boarding trains in hope; jumping on, to be whisked away to who-knows-where, but it didn’t matter because they were on a train, they were commuting, they felt safe again and at least they were away from the madness.
I would not take that route.
As luck would have it an extraordinary train suddenly appeared at the platform, unnoticed by anyone else. I almost had to pinch it to see if it were real. The driver leaned out the window.
“Imagination is the vehicle that drives this story, man! Hop on!” he said.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Everywhere and nowhere, baby.”
“Hi-ho silver lining?”
“That’s where it’s at. Are you getting on, or not? Not afraid of a little imagination, are you?”
And so I boarded.
Ah, the last paragraph, how did we get here? Well, it’s the end of the story, where most last paragraphs are to be found: the truth is, I don’t remember much of the imaginary journey but I can tell you I did get home safely, albeit an hour later than expected; time may indeed have stopped. Did the imaginary journey really happen? Again, all I can say is that the true bits are fact and the imaginary bits are fiction – I just hope the train company believe me on the delay