38 Minutes Delayed by a Fatality

Posted: June 11, 2009 in graffiti living

My train was stopped mid-journey by a suicide.  Someone had thrown themselves on the tracks.  Over the loudspeaker they apologised that the train had been “38 minutes delayed by a fatality.”  Within two stops, “38 minutes delayed by a fatality” had become “the incident at Exeter.”  From the next stop onwards it was just described as the delayed train.  Death had been demoted, and it only took three stops.

I still remember the strong Afrikaans accent of the man that sat opposite me on the train.  He shoved his way onto the packed train as the doors were closing, pushed his way passed everyone stood in the aisles, and was just about to sit down when a woman beat him to it.  He got angry and shouted at her for stealing his seat.  I moved over and made room for him at my table.  Once he’d calmed down, he made a concerted effort to entertain the group of women sat across from us; especially the one who had taken his seat.  I listened to the strange lulls and uncomfortable shifts in their conversation.  He talked for two hours about his childhood and his travels around the world – all this from people being crushed too close together and sat in one anothers’ seats.  They were attentive, pretended to listen, and even asked questions at appropriate intervals, but never offered any details about themselves.  Nobody mentioned the suicide.

That was seven years ago.  I was on my way back from the first time I’d ever done any teaching.  At first I’d been nervous about what the kids would make of me, but they decided I was an Elf, nicknamed me Legolas, and made me a bow and arrow to take back home.  I still had traces of cat sick in my hair from a gay asthmatic cat that had thrown up cat biscuits on my head the night before; it had curled up next to me in the night and tried to eat my hair whilst I slept.  I also had with me a large rucksack and, of course, the bow and arrow.  Needless to say, the Afrikaan man did his best to ignore me.

On the train there was an attractive young woman that looked like an elf; she was so pretty and mysterious that if she’d confessed to being an elven princess, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  She kept smiling at me.  I couldn’t figure out why she was smiling – was she thinking that I too looked like an elf, or just amused by the sight of some nutter with a bow and arrow and cat sick in his hair?

When the woman got up at her stop, I wrote in my notebook ‘The elven one is leaving!’  As she walked past to get off the train, we looked into each others’ eyes and she smiled at me again – one elf to another.  I wanted to say something, but was conscious that cat sick tends to linger and smells quite a bit even after you’ve washed your hair four or five times, and also afraid that I’d just end up blurting out, “ARE YOU AN ELF?!” a little bit too loud.  One of those times when you know you should say something, but don’t, and kick yourself about it afterwards.

Life is full of these moments, but they don’t add up to a life.  Sometimes I feel like my entire life has been delayed by a fatality; lines out from one end of the journey to the other.  Where are you going?  Who are you traveling with?  And how many stops will it take for your death to be forgotten?

You have to try and figure out where you are at the moment – in the moment, moment to moment, for all moments.  This is harder than it sounds.

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Comments
  1. […] On the train there was an attractive young woman that looked like an elf; she was so pretty and mysterious that if she’d confessed to being an elven princess, I wouldn’t have been surprised. She kept smiling at me. I couldn’t figure out why she was smiling – was she thinking that I too looked like an elf, or just amused by the sight of some nutter with a bow and arrow and cat sick in his hair? Read the rest of this entry » […]

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