It was the middle of the night and we were standing on a platform in Middle-of-Nowhere, England, being drenched by cold rain instead of snuggling cozily into our beds in London.
We wondered how we got here, and how we were going to get home. We had had no food or water for hours, and the end of the journey was nowhere in sight.
Was this how the apocalypse arrived? In the form of a seemingly innocent train ride from Edinburgh to London? It seemed like a plausible explanation. It happened this way in films. One minute the main character is on their way to high school and the next they’re toting a machine gun over their shoulders, off to save the world.
We shivered and complained. It seemed like years ago that we been pushed by a massive crowd onto the train in Edinburgh, the train itself objecting rather strongly to the cramming of too many passengers into its tin belly. We should have listened to its groaning protests; maybe then the ten car vehicle wouldn’t have vomited us onto a train platform in Fuck-Knows-Where-Upon-Tweed a couple of hours later.
But back in Edinburgh we were still so naive, shuffling onto the train and searching for a table, a search that we soon realized was a little optimistic. It immediately became apparent that it would be impossible to even find a spare seat. The kind folk at East Coast Lines, in their desire to transport everyone from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and their money) to London, had completely overbooked the train. Attempting to beat a hasty retreat off the train and to the nearest customer service desk, we were backing down the aisle when we tumbled forward onto each other and random surrounding personages: the train was moving.
With only one choice, we more or less fell our way back to the connecting compartment between the cars, glaring fervently at the seated passengers we passed along the way. Upon arriving at the cozy luggage transport area, we found it to have already been transformed into a human transport area. Current occupants included:: a frazzled looking young couple with a newborn baby, a rocker chick with a huge pink flower in her hair already sleeping on the floor, two silent men sitting by the doors reading, and a bewildered, hugging couple at the far end.
We soon took up our 65 pound seats located conveniently on the floor next to an out-of-order toilet and commenced a hearty complaint session. As the kilometers sped away, the disturbing noises coming from behind the closed plastic door became undeniable. A few people had already opened the door only to basically run away. If we had any sense in us then, we would have taken those omens to heart and abandoned ship at the next station, but instead we ignorantly stayed on the doomed train, too wrapped up in our anger to read the signs.
As the minutes wore on, we began to accept the situation; it would have been more comical if we weren’t so pissed off. But there was nothing else to be done. An overhead announcement came on, and our ears pricked up, expecting an apology of some sort, some kind of compensation offered, tea, biscuits, crumpets?
“We interrupt your journey to apologize for the lack of seating on this train.” The mechanical, tinny voice above us uttered.
“Lack of seating?! How about overbooking? You knew how many seats this train had! Bastards!” I yelled at the ceiling, shaking my fist as my fellow passengers exchanged somewhat worried glances, undoubtedly wondering if I was that loose cannon that always appears in these types of situations. They hadn’t yet determined if I the irate but harmless or actually violent type.
But the announcer wasn’t done infuriating us yet, as he continued, “We further apologize to those traveling in first class as there will be no hot drinks service due to heavy passenger loading.”
I fumed. “Well isn’t that just tragic!” I retorted at the disembodied voice, grumbling to myself. “Also heavy passenger loading?! Are they serious?!” I exclaimed to those around me, eliciting watery and unsure half-smiles.
I shook my head to myself and began reading as the others drifted to sleep around me. In the relative quiet, the noises from the bathroom seemed to be getting louder, gurgling and spitting. I eyed it warily, glad that I wasn’t sitting next to it. People came by at regular intervals attempting entrance, and I developed a canned response to their questioning looks, “It’s out of order. Next toilet is two cars over.” I pointed, ignoring their irritated looks, as if it was somehow my fault.
Boredom soon got the better of me though, and to amuse myself I began to invent ways of elaborately informing my fellow passengers that the bathroom was indisposed.
“I hear tell that there are bathroom facilities over yonder.” I quipped to the twentieth person that turned to me like I was an authority on train toilets.
“I would like to inform you that this toilet facility is unfortunately not feeling up to working today, but you may be able to encounter a more amiable lavatory at the end of this carriage.” I beamed sarcastically at a bewildered businessman.
But I was to regret my attitude towards the broken toilet very shortly, when the young mother began changing her baby on her pram. It was not number one. The newborn shot me an entertained look that seemed to say, “Whaddya gonna do about it?”
I returned to my book.
Finally we pulled into the first station stop, York, and after a longer than usual boarding time another announcement came on overhead, telling us that we were to be stopped here for an hour while the conductor was transported from the next city, Leeds, in a taxi.
I unleashed another torrent of angry comments at the disembodied voice. “He’s probably just hung over from the music festival!” I exclaimed. It was true. The Leeds music festival was that weekend.
I slumped back against my backpack and noted the man across from me was ironically reading “Turning Confusion into Clarity” by the Dalai Lama…I silently asked the book to shed some clarity on the situation we were all currently stuck in. People packed into the cars, hot and stuffy in the cars, but rainy and cold outside. Boredom. Anger. Frustration.
The hours ticked on, and finally an altogether too cheery voice popped on overhead and announced that the member of personnel (aka himself, the sunny bastard) had now arrived and we would be speeding towards London in a jiffy.
We sped. For about twenty minutes. Whereupon we stopped. Yet again. Without any information. Yet again.
The train remained stubbornly halted as the light outside dimmed, and mist settled ominously on the moors. Everything, had turned a subdued gray, a transformation that was mirrored inside the train by our moods as we slowly began to accept our fate.
After what seemed an eternity, crackles above us signaled that information was yet again about to be imparted onto us from the gods above. But alas, instead of the clarity I had wished fervently for earlier, we were doomed to receive a further dose of confusion as the tinny voice apparently had only decided to made a reappearance in order to make rather thinly veiled death threats. “We apologize again for the heavy passenger loading…but if we do happen to lose some passengers at the next stop we may be able to reinstate the hot drinks service.” The voice politely informed us, as if wishing that some passengers would happen to fall off the train was a normal occurrence on English train services, and that it would be preferable than having to deal with the angry mobs in first class that hadn’t been able to have their afternoon tea.
Also, apparently another normal occurrence on English train services was to drop their passengers at the nearest available station and vomit them off onto the platform without further instructions on where to go. At least I assume this to be true, as that was what happened next.
So here we are, back at the apocalyptic train platform. Masses of confused people wandered about, their luggage trailing behind them in the din as we all searched for the same thing: a member of train personnel, if they existed. Sometimes there would be a sudden rush as people moved to a flickering screen with train timetables, but mass disappointment usually followed as the list simply updated with yet another cancellation. Our fate seemed cemented with the ticking of each minute. We were never going to get to London tonight.
All of a sudden, a stout, short and extremely harried looking woman appeared out of nowhere and bellowed, “Everyone that wants to get to London tonight – get on the next arriving train to Peterborough!”
Mayhem ensued as the train pulled up and hundreds of people clamored into the metal boxes. We stood in the restaurant car corridor, guzzling the complimentary water that had been so graciously offered (hint: stolen) to us in reparation for the inconveniences caused for the duration of the afternoon.
“We have to stick together! If we all stick together they have to do something with us!” A leader seemed to emerge from our midst, ready to steer the angry mobs to victory if need be. People nodded, but mainly were too exhausted to get worked up about it. Most buried their noses in their books or phones, accepting the reality of the situation.
I was once again stuck next to the toilet, again out-of-order, although we were on a different train. I could hear the now familiar noises rising from underneath the door. Was I the only one that was getting worried about this? Two different trains, and the station bathroom had sounded strange as well. I pressed my ear against the door. Glog-glog-glog-hsssssss. I edged away from the door.
As we hurtled along, the sky darkened and the colors outside began to fade. Where we were headed now, I didn’t know. The speed of the train seemed to increase with every passing moment until the trees were just blurred shapes out the window. There was no going back, and no way out now.