Between the lines

The village train station is testimony to the potential of buildings to crumble if not inhabited. I was surprised therefore to see that that such order and solid strength was built into the re-purposed railway sleeper crossing which led from one side of the tracks to the other.

The crossing had a purpose, and a rather pedestrian one at that: it was there merely for people to get from one siding to the other.  Yet as a one-time avid reader of Home & Garden magazines, my mind baulked at the absence of jungle-like greenery on either side, and perhaps a strategically placed fountain, with rounded pebbles from a nameless riverbed.

Leafy glades as pleasing do exist in nature, but not here, at Boliqueime railway station. This is the province of graffiti that is neither intelligent nor artistic. It is the domain where a father gives his rebellious daughter a twenty euro note against his better judgement but is quite clearly beside himself as to what else to do, except come back one minute later and remind her to make sure she phones him when she reaches her destination. It is the place where one notices such things and yet one stares ahead as if half-blind and half-deaf, for this is the permissible response when private drama unfolds in public spaces.

It is sunny. The young fellow bulging with fitness is proud of his fancy bicycle, but still has not learned how to fold a sweatshirt properly. I want to tell him he could learn a thing or two from the impeccably dressed gay man sitting on the bench nearby. He’s so hot he’s sizzling, yet I cannot tell if he has just left his lover or will meet him when the train gets to the end of the line. I feel certain that if I could stare at him longer, I would discover the answer, but the rebellious daughter has put everyone on edge, and I should not risk it. Besides, I have to remind myself that it is none of my business.

Apart from that, I have to remind myself that I no longer look as I feel. The image returned in the reflection of the window reveals a quite different person; it startles me. When did I suddenly become this unimagined older version? Yes, I did imagine once how I would be. I have always had a vision of the old person I would like to be, and in twenty years’ time, perhaps I can confirm the accuracy of the size and shape I had in my mind’s eye three decades ago, give or take a year or two. It is only that this version — the version I am now, the one which catches me by surprise in windows and the bathroom mirror — this particular version was never imagined.

But it is me, the real me. I know it is real, because I never pretend to be something I am not. You might think I am exaggerating when I say that, but I am not. I have quite simply followed to the letter what he —  my Dad — told me: Just be who you are.

I stayed between the lines, you see. And now I look like a stranger to myself. I expect that I shall get used to this new person by and by; this outer shell, encasing a lifetime.


In the meantime, we have boarded the train. In the corner at the back of the coach sits a pair of Englishwomen in floral summer dresses, chattering. The slim gay man in his black tailored everything sits two rows ahead of them and is soon consulting his ultra-slim tablet after the manner of one who has things to consult. I take my place across the aisle in my black jeans and bulky black leather jacket. Like the slim one, I sit slantwise, so that I too can ponder whether I am watching or being watched.

Despite the surprise I feel at this unimagined older version of myself, I am like my fellow traveller in black, who now has his coat carefully folded across his knees yet somehow manages to do so with casual affectation. I, too, cross my legs, towards him; the first outward indication that I am, in fact, kindly disposed towards him. I am like my fellow traveller because, like him, I have long since become accustomed to the curious stares of strangers, of passers by.  They can look if they must, and realise one thing; I do not need them to look or not look at me, or approve of what they see. It is all the same to me, since, like my fellow traveller, I am simply being who I am.

We are the silent mooring lines and black anchors for the pair of twittering Englishwomen. I am reading a print-out of a document and the slim traveller continues to work through items on his tablet.

The Englishwomen must be new to these parts, for they incorrectly assume that I am Portuguese and converse without constraint. I toy with the idea of asking them an embarrassing question, but no. I stay between the lines, and try to block their nattering indiscretions out while I tackle the reading in front of me. It is useless. I stare out the window and then pretend to read again.

The one woman is on a roll now. Oh, and she is funny! By which I mean she is being amusing, but she is also unintentionally amusing me. I maintain my poker face. I cast my eyes over to the slim man in black. His head is bent over his tablet. Just then, I see his mouth twitch; a glimmer of a smile escapes in response to the amusing story from the Englishwoman. I smile at him with my eyes only in a way that says that I can see he understands English too, and I let him read between the lines on my face. I look down at my papers before the funny woman catches on.

The train reaches the station. As we disembark, we all ignore each other perfectly.

©2017 Allison Wright


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