The young woman approached the middle-aged man on the platform. She peered into his face and smiled.
The man bristled. Here we go again, he steeled himself. Another former pupil presenting themselves for a trip down Memory Lane.
“Yes,” he confirmed. He glanced along the track, hoping the imminent train would curtail the interview.
“Hello, sir!” the young woman laughed. “It’s me! Donna!”
“Ah, yes, of course.” Bennett smiled although he had no clue. “Donna. How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Donna looked him up and down. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Um, I don’t know. Bit thinner on top and a bit thicker around the middle.”
Donna laughed. “You was always my favourite.”
“That’s good of you to say.”
“And I was a proper tearaway, wasn’t I, sir? Always getting into scrapes. Do you remember when Mrs Bagshot caught me and Trisha Fenton smoking in the toilets?”
“And when we was doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and you gave me an A-star for my Frisbee.”
“Thisbe,” Bennett corrected automatically. But Donna, true to form, wasn’t listening.
“Oh, we had some laughs, didn’t we, back in the day? Are you still teaching?”
“Oh, you know,” Bennett raised his battered briefcase. “Bit of supply, here and there.”
“Here,” Donna nudged him. “Remember that supply teacher we had for Music and he ran away crying and you came in and put us all in Detention! Talk about laugh!”
“Um…” Vague memories were beginning to stir in the murk of Bennett’s memory.
“And remember when Darren Slaughter brought his dog into Assembly because he knew the Head was allergic.”
“…Yes!” A grin broke out on Bennett’s face. “I do remember that!”
A train hove into view, crawling steadily toward the station. Donna gripped the teacher’s arm. Even through the thick corduroy of his sleeve he could feel her hand, icy and determined.
“Please, sir,” her eyes searched his. “Ring in sick or something. Or go and have a coffee.”
“What on Earth –”
The train pulled in with a long, slow squeal. The other commuters bustled for the doors, jostling past Bennett and Donna. Bennett blinked.
The young woman had gone. Vanished! Or just lost in the huddle waiting to board the train.
The memories rushed to the surface like bubbles in carbonated water. Donna, the bright, down-to-earth girl, with the gift of the gab and a heart of gold.
Donna, who at the age of 20 had been pushed under a train by a no-good boyfriend when she’d told him she was pregnant.
Bennett remembered donating a couple of quid for some flowers.
A chill ran through him. It had happened at this very station.
The carriage doors beeped impatiently and closed. The train moved on, leaving Bennett behind. He headed to the café and ordered a double espresso but he merely sat staring at the steaming cup, too jittery to drink it.
After a while, he felt better. He’d imagined it, he supposed. Or confused the girl with someone else, some other Donna. There had been quite a few, he seemed to recall.
He went to check the departures board for the next train but found all services were cancelled.
“You’ll be lucky,” said an operative pushing a broom across the deserted concourse. “All trains are off. The last one to leave here has come off the rails just up the line. Terrible mess.”