Author Topic: Missed Connection  (Read 986 times)

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on: 12:30 PM, 09/30/17

All I could do was yell in frustration as the train left the platform without me on it. My mad dash across the bridge had been for nought, and I was left sweating and angry on Platform 2 as the 17:40 to Lincoln chugged away from the station and sped around the bend. Had my train from Grimsby not been delayed at Habrough I would’ve made my connection in plenty of time. I dropped my bag and threw my empty paper cup at the ground, not thinking about how it made me look. As if to prove my point an old couple and a sleepy-looking teenage boy stared at me like I was a crazy lady, and I can hardly blame them. I probably should have taken the direct train but it was cheaper to change at Barnetby, and according to the conductor that was where I was.

I knew Barnetby was a small rural village but I was expecting the station to be bigger. This place only had two platforms, with the Information Desk and a glass-box waiting room indoors. There were a few metal benches and a pole-mounted station clock standing in the middle of Platform 2. The usual signposts denoting the station name weren’t present, but I trusted that the conductor knew the route well enough. After taking a few deep breaths I flicked my hair out of my eyes and lifted my bag on to my back. It wasn’t very big or heavy, just a small rucksack carrying my headphones, charger and whatever book I was reading at the time. The colourful stars pattern made it look like it was designed for someone younger, but it was cheap and did the job so I didn’t care. I turned and headed back over the bridge towards the main building, avoiding interacting with the few people there. The departure boards were above the Info Desk and I needed to know when my next train out of here was coming. Shuffling past a man in a grey suit and a young couple sharing headphones, I pushed through the double doors to what I guess could be called the foyer.

A middle aged woman with bobbed blonde hair sat behind the glass screen. She was more over dressed than a typical ticket desk attendant, with her lazily applied pastel pink eyeshadow and overly-white teeth. Maybe she literally dressed for the job she wanted, but it made her appear stuck up and off putting. When I approached, she remained slouched across her chair looking disinterested. Ignoring her, I checked the screen showing the names and times of destinations and departures. Much to my relief a train to Lincoln would be arriving at 18:05 on Platform 2, and there would be another one at 18:15 that would go through to Nottingham. Luckily I wouldn’t have a long wait here. Not only was the station small but it was pretty isolated too, and I didn’t want to spend even one hour stuck in a place where I couldn’t even get a £2 cup of coffee. The road outside was a long flat line, stretching out on both sides until it met the horizon. There was no sign of the town, only a wind turbine and three small houses a few miles away upon the hill. Other than that, there were just crop fields surrounding the station. It wasn’t as if there was somewhere to go out and buy a magazine from. I sat down in the small waiting room and texted my train times to my dad. He replied back with a smile-emoticon and “gr8. Will pick you up.” My phone’s battery was only at 68%, but that would probably last until I got home.

The only other people waiting there with me were a mum and dad with two toddlers, and a college-age girl in a hood resting a skateboard on her knees. There was a vending machine next to the door, but a paper sign stuck to the front said it was Out of Order. I took off my bag and relaxed into the grey plastic chair to idly flick through Twitter for a few minutes. A train pulled up to the platform and the small family got up and left. It was 17:55 so this one wasn’t my train, but I prepared to leave anyway. Lifting my bag by the handle, I got up and went back out to the platform. It was quieter now, the man I’d passed by and the old couple who’d watched my little tantrum were gone. The boy and girl were still there, huddled against the wall and not looking up from their MP3. I sat on the blue metal bench near the couple and messaged Dad again, “train nearly here see you soon x.” The battery icon was showing 42%, but I wouldn’t really need it once I got on the train. Before long it was 18:03 and I jumped up ready with my ticket in hand, even more eager to get back home. I watched as the station clock ticked round to 18:05 and listened out for that familiar horn. Staring in the direction I knew the train would come from I rocked back and forth on my toes impatiently. Why wasn’t the train showing up? Had there been a delay? Had there been an announcement? It got to 18:08 and the train still didn’t show.

Gritting my teeth in order to prevent another public outcry, I turned sharply and marched to the Info Desk.
The lady was staring into space until I knocked on the desk in front of the glass screen.
“Hi,” I said, “is the train to Lincoln delayed?”
She kept staring for a few seconds before blinking as if she’d just woken up.
“No.” She said. “It should be here soon.”
Trying not to sound forceful, I tried again “Are you sure? The board said it 18:05 and it’s way past that.”
This time she only nodded.
I slammed my hand on the desk a little too hard, “When is my train getting here?” I pleaded, “I need to let my dad know!”
At first she was just silent, before forcing a smile and saying “It should be here soon.”
I was about to ask her again, but gave up right as I opened my mouth. She was wasting my time.

Huffily, I hoisted my bag over my shoulders properly and trudged back to the platform. It was still warm out, and the dry heat was making my jeans stick to my legs. My hair felt dry and all I could think of was the warm bath I would take when I got home. The next train couldn’t get there soon enough! My phone buzzed in my hoodie pocket and I whipped it out in time to see a new message from dad, “Safe travels, see you soon.”  I replied to let him know “train was delayed, will be on way soon” before switching the device off to save the last 36% of charge. There was a whistle and a metallic grind and my heart leapt in relief. I looked around to see a train that was pulling up to the opposite platform. Had I read the time wrong? Because it was 18:15 and this train was definitely not going towards Nottingham. Was the departure board broken?

Confused, I went back to try the lady at the Info Desk. Ms. Clueless was the same as when I last saw her, slumped over and staring lazily through the glass screen. The departure board was still showing times, but wasn’t listing any destinations. Gripping the edge of the desk I demanded answers from the nation’s worst rail employee, “What time is the next train to Lincoln? I need to know now.”
She gave a wide grin that looked fake, “It should be here soon” she said in a chipper tone, “what does the board say?”
The board remained blank. I gritted my teeth, “I think, it might be broken.”
She didn’t respond and carried on smiling at me.
This time I couldn’t hold myself back, “Tell me when the next damn train to Lincoln is!” I yelled “I need to know now, I have to get home now!”
She still didn’t react. Slamming my hands on the desk, I tried again “When is my next train? Do your job and tell me!”
She shrugged and said “I’m sure it’ll be here soon.”

Unable to take any more of her vague and useless drivel I stormed over to the waiting room, dropped back onto the chair and cried into my lap. This isn’t what I needed today. I needed a bath and a sleep in my old bed more than ever. At least this time nobody was watching me, the girl with the skateboard wasn’t there anymore. Maybe she got on the train that just left? The sun had started to go down by then, with the orange glow beginning to bleed into the sky. Drying my tears on my sleeve I pulled my phone out again, my dad would need to know that I might be here for a while. I switched it on to be met with the Battery Only 20% notification. I swiped it away, it would be enough for this text but possibly not any more. “Train is delayed, dunno when I’ll be back now.” Quickly I turned it off again in case that would help, and immediately began looking for a plug socket. The waiting room walls were almost entirely windows, and the only visible power outlet was behind the vending machine. There was no way I could reach that.

Giving up I zipped my phone back into my bag and went to stand out on the platform again. The station felt a lot more isolated now. The headphone couple were gone along with the sleepy-guy who’d been staring at me earlier. Had there been another train? They could have just left but it would have been a long walk into town, I hadn’t seen a bus or car go by for a while either. I sat back on the bench, staring eagerly at the bend in the track to the left. Hoping that, maybe soon there’d be a train coming around it to get me out of there. My eyes flicked between watching the tracks and checking the hands of the station clock. It was around 19:15 when it began to get a bit darker. The lights in the main entrance came on and the clock face lit up too. Even the lights in the houses in the distance switched on one by one. I had no idea why anyone would be living out there, miles away from the town or other people. What would they do in an emergency? Surely that wasn’t Barnetby. Instantly curious I fished out my phone again, aware that it would probably be for the last time that night. I switched it on to see it only had about 17% battery, but it was enough to let me open my Maps app. I tapped the icon that would make it jump to show my location but all it brought up was a blank space. Scrolling around didn’t bring up any place names or landmarks either. As the battery was low it was possibly glitching so I tried reloading the app again. But this time the “unable to find your location” message popped up. At this point I knew it was pointless to try again, so I just gave up and put the phone back.

The heat of the day finally began to fade and the evening chill was welcome to me. I still listened out in hopes for a train, but the air was quiet and dead. Nothing but the stirrings of birds and the low hum of the turbine from a few miles away. I covered my head with my hood and rested my face in my hands. All I could think about was dinner and my old bed which I couldn’t get back to soon enough. I could feel myself drifting off as I stared out at the fields again. My head kept sliding out of my hands and I’d snap myself back into focus. I must have been super tired because at one point I started seeing things. The tall crops started to look like waves and the lights in the houses turned off and on in what looked like a pattern. My sleepy daze was cut short by the sound of the heavy front doors scraping open. Curious, I looked around through the windows of the waiting room. Was someone else here to get a train?

With the lights all on inside, I saw a short man in a mustard-green canvas coat walk into the lobby. I was surprised to see another person show up so late. Had he walked all the way from Barnetby? Or maybe he was one of the people who lived on the hill? He bought a ticket from the lady and then came to stand out on the platform. His dull ginger hair was messy as if he’d been out in the wind too long, and his face was noticeably tanned too. He stood right on the edge of the platform with a noticeable slouch, and shuffled from one foot to the other every few seconds.
It was late and my interest in being around people was dead for the day. I hunched over my knees some more and hoped he wouldn’t stand near me.

Much to my dismay, the man in the green coat came and stood at the edge of the platform to the left of the bench I was sitting on. From this distance I could hear him either talking to himself or making some weird noises with his mouth. Wrapping my hoodie even tighter over my head I stared at my feet. Peeking up I saw that he was making a side-glance in my direction. I put my bag on my lap and pretended to be looking at something inside it; anything to avoid possible eye contact with this guy. I peeked up again and he was looking back at me through his straggled hair. I rummaged in my bag some more, even taking out my dead phone and acting like I was messaging somebody.

Clearly I didn’t seem disinterested enough, because the next minute he was standing beside the bench making a warm grin.
“Hey, nice bag.” He chuckled. “Bet that’s from somewhere fancy!”
I had to hold myself back from groaning and sounding rude, so I kept looking at my phone and shook my head.
He made an exaggerated frown and laughed again “Really? You seem like such a fashionista!”
Usually I’d tell him to screw off at this point, but it didn’t sound like he was being intentionally sarcastic. He was more like an embarrassing Uncle, and was making me feel just as awkward.
Holding my bag tight I looked up at him and forced a smile, “No, not me.” I said. This time I finally got a better look at his badly-tanned face. He had uneven freckles and his right canine tooth was missing giving him a goofy look. I tried not to laugh at him. I don’t think he could read body language, because he kept standing there trying to talk to me. “So, where are you going?” He asked, way-too enthusiastically.
I probably should have lied, but I’m not good at thinking on the spot.  “My dad’s house” I told him.

He took a step back and I thought he was going to leave me alone, but he stood there and shrugged before saying “Aw, going home is nice. I’m going home too.” His tone and demeanour was more relaxed, however I still didn’t feel comfortable talking to him. I went back to messing with my bag as he started grabbing at the pockets of his coat. He pulled out a familiar looking orange train ticket and waved it towards my face. “Here’s where I’m going home to. I haven’t been there for a year.”
Reluctantly, I looked at what he was showing me. In bold black type it read STD, One Way, To Shroby. (I had no idea where that was.) The “From” section was blank. Surely that was a misprint, but before I had the chance to look at it again he snatched it away.
“That’s great” I told him, trying to sound positive, “Home is good.”
I hugged my bag, stood up from the bench and tried to shuffle back towards the doors before he could say anything else to me. But he gave me a pat on the shoulder and kept jabbering on. “Where are you going home to? Somewhere nice?”
Forcing a smile I spluttered out “Just back to Lincoln.”

He pursed his lips and tilted his head as if I’d said something cryptic that he had to decipher. Once again he began rummaging for something in his pockets. I was going to take my moment to get away from him but he pulled out a UK road map. It was fanned out and not properly folded, with a lot of tears at the edges. The front cover had been ripped off and a piece of lined note paper had been stapled on in its place. ‘Abel’s Map!’ was written along the top margin in red ink. Holding the map with both hands the man (who I’m guessing must have been Abel) let it flap down before folding it in half and thrusting it towards my face. “Look! Here’s where I’m from…” He was pointing at a big marker-pen circle that seemed to indicate the border where Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire counties meet. I had to squint to see it in the low light, but I could faintly make out “Shroby” in small print next to the word HOME scrawled on in marker. Abel shook the map and poked at the circled area again, “Now you can show me where you’re from!” I shook my head and held back my hands in protest, why was he making me do this? It was his map, surely he could find Lincoln on it.  I knew he wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave him an answer, so I took a look at the map and hastily pointed to the bumped-out headland between Scunthorpe and Boston.
“It’s around here” I said, rubbing my finger in a wide loop over that small area of the map.
He whisked the map away from my face and began closely inspecting the spot I’d pointed out,
“I’m not seeing it…” he started, but before he could finish I made my escape.

Backing away I eventually managed to get back through the doors and into the station building. It was noticeably warmer and I was thankful for that at least. Looking back through the waiting room I could see Abel walking around in a circle still looking at his old map. I’d probably seemed rude but I wanted to be away from the guy. I checked the departure boards again but they were still blank. The lady behind the desk was fiddling with a pen and didn’t seem to have noticed me. Despite being tired of pointless conversation I went to give the Info Desk one last try. Gently tapping on the glass I simply asked “Hi, what station is this?”
Ms. Incompetent snapped out of her trance, dropped the pen and looked at me again with the same old fake grin. “Where do you think it is?”
“Barnetby?” I groaned. Was she really going to keep this up?
The lady nodded.
I rolled my eyes and took a moment to collect myself. This time I decided to ask about something else, “When is the next train to Shroby?”
Her smile faltered and she looked as if she actually had to think for a second, “Where?” she asked.
Maybe she didn’t hear me properly so I slowed it down “Sh-roe-bee, you just gave that man a ticket.”
Instead of that smile her face morphed into a frown. The tone of her voice became less perky and she drummed her finger nails on the desk before saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know where that is.”
Letting out an irritated whine I dropped my bag and asked one last time “Can you at least tell me when the next train to Lincoln is?”
She bit her lip, shrugged and shook her head.

Shaking, I snatched up my bag and tried not to cry again. How could she possibly know this little about the trains? It was as if she didn’t even work there. I grabbed my phone out of my bag and tried turning it on, hoping I’d have some message from dad. The screen lit up for a second to show the dead battery icon before blinking back off. I clutched the device so hard that I’m surprised I didn’t break it. It took all of my remaining self-restraint to not toss it on the floor like a disposable cup. With the last of my strength I stuck my phone in my pocket, grabbed my bag by the top handle and dragged myself back out to the cold, bleak platform.

It was fully dark now, aside from the glow coming from inside. Without any light pollution the sky stretched out endlessly in all directions, and the windows of the houses almost looked like the stars overhead. Hunched over, I trudged over to the far end of the platform to be as far away from Abel as I could get. I zipped my hoodie up all the way before dropping down on the hard concrete. The pole-mounted clock was as round and bright as the moon, showing 21:15. At this time would the trains even be running to a small station like this? Over the low whir of turbine blades I could hear heavy footsteps getting louder and louder. I didn’t need this again.

“You seem very down in the dumps.” Abel said, he was still loud but not as bombastic.
I didn’t even budge. Maybe he’d leave me alone this time.
“If it makes you feel better, I found you on my map!”
Once again he waved the tatty UK Pocket Roadmap in front of me, now Lincoln was clearly written on in big blue Biro letters across the area I’d pointed out.
“That’s good” I humoured him.
He sat down next to me and spread the map out on the ground. “I travel a lot” he enthused “I keep losing where I am so I write it on my map.”
I nodded and gave the page a quick scan, not only was the map faded and ripped but it was covered in scribbles from many different pens. He kept babbling on about what different lines were but I tuned it out. Resting my head on my knees I could feel myself zoning out again, his voice becoming a faulty radio signal dwindling in and out of focus.

A sudden nudge in the arm broke me out of my trance. Abel was grinning like a proud child and shaking his blue pen in front of my eyes.
“Look, look! I drew us!” he chirped.
Sure enough he was pointing to a spot on the map where he’d drawn two small stick figures, one with a backpack and the other with a big coat.
“That’s nice.” I yawned. “Looks good.”
He clapped his hands and blurted out “Not many people talk to me, you’re my new Train-Buddy.”
Abel then sighed and shrugged his shoulders, “I travel a lot but most of the time it’s like people don’t notice me.”
There was a moment of silence and I just tried to pull my least-awkward grin. Abel shuffled his feet again before finally perking up
“Here!” he said, pulling his Biro from his coat pocket. “Take this!”
He held the pen out towards me, shaking it around like he’d done with the ticket.
Hesitantly I reached out, took it from his hand and put it in the front pocket of my bag. I stammered out a “thank you.”

Abel stood up again and I managed to follow suit. My body was cold and felt like a rusty machine and I clumsily stretched my aching legs and tried to regain balance. Through the stale air a sharp whistle could be heard and I immediately warmed with joy. A train! With a rush of pistons and the chug of wheels, two brilliant headlights beamed around the bend as my way home came into view. The small screen on the front clearly read LINCOLN. It was 22: 43 but at least it was here! Abel and I stood back as the train whirled to a stop, all the way along Platform 2. The double doors of the carriage clicked open inviting me inside and I pulled my bag back over one shoulder.
“Goodbye Train-Buddy,” said Abel, “Get home safe!”

I shot him a half-smile before taking that stride into the warmth of Carriage B, and quickly sitting down in the nearest empty window seat. As I expected, he was standing there beaming and waving at me. I returned the gesture as the doors closed and the train prepared to move on again. The lights in the station building were off and I could only faintly see the shadow of my Train-Buddy as the wheels began to tug the train forwards. The silhouette of the wind turbine still loomed over the horizon, making a dark space in front of the stars. As the train set into motion I took one last look at the houses on the hill, but the lights weren’t on anymore. While speeding away from Barnetby, it was as if it wasn’t even there. I lay back in my seat, so glad to be comfortable at last.

The conductor came by to check the tickets of the few other passengers, but luckily he left me alone. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remember about the journey back was waking up as my pocket buzzed. I jolted awake and whipped my phone out so fast that I almost dropped it. New Message from Dad, “Where are you???” I swiped to reply and saw that he’d sent me multiple messages in the past few hours, “What time is train? Do you want lift?” and “When you getting in?” Fumbling I managed to reply, “Train was late. On way back now. Would like a lift.” Before I clicked it off again I noticed that the battery had recharged itself all the way back to 76%, a lot more than I thought it was able to. I zoned out for most of the way back, drifting off watching the lights of passing towns and cars whiz in and out of view through the window. Eventually the train pulled into a small station, fully lit with street lights which woke me from my daze. The white signpost clearly said “Barnetby.” This wasn’t the same station I’d come from, so where had I been? I must have gotten off at the wrong stop.

Some passengers left and I waited for the conductor to walk past again before getting his attention and asking “Hey, where was the last station?”
He took a quick look at a printed timetable before answering
“Well luv, that was Habrough we just came from and it’s Market Rasen next.”
I thanked him as he went back to checking the tickets of the new passengers. The conductor on the last train must have told me the wrong stop, I realised. But, where had I been then? Staying awake on the way back was a struggle but at least I knew the rest at the other end would be worth it. After what felt like a life’s journey I was stumbling out on to the platform at Lincoln Central into the familiar arms of my dad, calling out “Welcome home Sal!”

Everything else that had happened that day felt like a dream as I buried myself in my old purple duvet and dropped off to sleep like a log that night. I didn’t wake up until 10:22am the next day. The lie-in was great and I actually felt alive again. My bag and hoodie were hung on my computer chair, and a cup of fresh tea was waiting on the desk next to them. Slowly rolling out of bed I got up and went to pick up the cup. As I got to the desk I realised that my mobile was still hanging out of the hoodie pocket. Its battery was fully dead so I went into my bag to get the charger for it. Sliding my hand into the bag’s pocket I felt something thin and plastic. The pen. I pulled it out and placed it on the desk. It was only a standard blue biro, half used up with a lightly chewed cap. But it felt like a foreign object that didn’t belong here, as if it shouldn’t exist away from its owner. I’d almost forgotten about Abel, he didn’t seem real now that I was fresh and fully awake. My mind snapped back to the last time this pen was used, when he drew us on to that big map of his. He’d put us at the station, but where had that actually been?

Immediately curious, I set about fetching the charger and getting my phone working again. I needed to look this up. After around fifteen minutes it finally had enough juice to stay switched on. Hastily I loaded up the internet and fumbled at the touch-screen keypad. Bringing up Google Maps I searched for “Grimsby,” it loaded slowly but as soon as it did I zoomed in to find the railway. Scrolling along I followed the stations that I knew were on that route: Healing, Stallingborough, Habrough, all the way through to Barnetby. No matter how much I zoomed in or scrolled around the screen I couldn’t find a station on the line between those last two. But I knew there had to be. Unless the second conductor had also given me the wrong station names? That had to be the case, right? I’d been frustrated and tired that night, so maybe I’d gotten confused somewhere. I was about to drop it and accept my mistake, but I remembered one last thing. Clearing the search bar I typed in a new place name. “Shroby.” The screen took a few seconds to load but when it did, it didn’t jump to a new location. I wasn’t being shown the border of the three counties, only the black bar saying “No results found for your search.” I refreshed the page but it didn’t change. How was Shroby not on their map? Abel had a ticket to go there! Frantically I tried a broader web-search but the only results I could find for “Shroby” were people and not places. I looked up road maps and county maps but the town didn’t seem to exist on any of them. If this town wasn’t in the UK then where was Abel’s map from? And where was he going? What bothered me the most though, is where did I meet him?

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