A strong breeze blew along the platform. Davies could have entered the waiting room – if the waiting room hadn’t been locked. He’d looked for a member of staff who could open it up but there was no one around. The ticket office was closed. The automated ticket machines appeared to be on the blink. Even the lift to the upper platform was out of order.
Davies shivered. The cold was seeping through the soles of his shoes, turning his feet to ice blocks. He paced to and fro, hoping to restore the circulation to his toes. The breeze stung his eyes so he turned his back.
The monitors flashed gobbledygook. He couldn’t even tell what time it was and – wouldn’t you know it? – his wristwatch had stopped. He took out his phone. The battery had drained.
How long have I been waiting here? Davies looked at the sky. The clouds didn’t appear to have moved or changed since he last observed them. The breeze whipped at his overcoat. Davies backed closer to the wall. The printed timetables were faded and grey: unreadable.
Davies would surely be late now. There had been no announcements about delays or cancellations. He had idea when (and indeed if) his train would show up at all.
They really do steal your life, these incompetent train companies, Davies thought. Sometimes they apologise with all the sincerity of a crocodile in tears. But you can never get the time back, time you could have spent with your loved ones instead of waiting and waiting and waiting with your life on hold. Nationalise the bloody lot, was his view. Make some fat cat minister accountable for getting the trains running a reliable service.
The breeze was showing no sign of letting up. It’s more of a gale really, Davies thought. If the train didn’t come soon, he could catch his death.
At last a light appeared further up the track and a train hove into view but it wasn’t the sleek intercity express Davies was waiting for. It was an ancient locomotive, wheezing a steady output of steam into the grey sky. It slowed as it approached the platform.
Davies stood back. At least there were signs of life at last. If one train comes – however old – there could be more, including the long-awaited 7:27 to the city.
“Getting on board, sir?” A man in an old-fashioned guard’s uniform asked from a carriage door. “We have a schedule to keep.”
“I’m trying to get to the city,” Davies called back. “You don’t happen to be going to the city, by any chance?”
“We have only the one destination, sir, on this line.” The guard stepped down and gestured for Davies to get on.
“Special occasion, is it? Some kind of railway anniversary?” Davies waved his hand to take in the old train and the uniform. The guard had even gone to the trouble of growing muttonchops on his cheeks.
“The dressing up! The steam engine!” Davies entered the carriage and sat down. They’d certainly done a bang-up job with the restoration.
“Ticket, please,” the guard held out his hand.
“I’m afraid I don’t have one. The office was closed and the machines – Could I purchase one from you?”
“Two and six, sir. Hope you’ve got the right change.”
“Two and six…?” Davies felt in his pockets. “You can’t take my debit card?”
The guard gave him a blank look. “If you can’t pay, I’ll have to ask you to disembark, sir.”
“But – wait!”
“Please don’t cause a scene, sir. Kindly leave the train or I shall be forced to eject you.”
“Goodbye, sir. This train is not for you.”
Davies could see that the guard was intractable. He stood up and, muttering and swearing, he headed for the carriage door.
He stepped out onto the platform and into bright sunshine. People were willing around. An announcement told them the 7:27 was due. The monitors scrolled out the arrivals and departures as was their custom. Davies was amazed. He looked around, puzzled and astounded.
But the old steam engine was nowhere to be seen, and above the station in the clear blue morning sky, there was not a single cloud.