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Transit

Monday, 24 March, 2014

Words by Sam Perkins
Illustration by Cassandra Martin

I often come down to the old station. After the school bell rings, and they all go home to close the shutters and stare at screens or pages. I walk with my friends for a short while before turning down a different, derelict road and heading down to the gleaming tracks. The station is always empty; trains don’t stop there. They used to slow down as they passed, as regulations required. Now I don’t think the drivers see the station any more. It’s a ruin. The platforms are so overgrown with weeds that they stand as a pair of matching hillocks on either side of the track. The drivers cruise past and the turbulence disturbs the grass.

They’re usually freight trains, carrying wheat and barley from towns further out than ours. Heaving loads that fill trains a mile long. I’m not reminded of my father’s pick up, with its feeble crop of tomatoes held in crates in the back. It’s only after I eventually and inevitably go home and slump my schoolbag on the veranda that I see the truck and think of the trains.

He’s pressing tobacco into his pipe with square, stubby fingers when I come into the lounge. He doesn’t look up, his attention solely on his task. My sister is playing a game, sneaking and talking her way through a far future city. I watch her briefly as she lingers on a balcony to admire the view from a skyscraper, before crawling back into an air vent. She always comes straight home, dumps her bag and fishes out a second-hand controller from the tangled wires in her desk. Its cable is frayed and has been repeatedly repaired, the plastic weary and groaning at the labour it’s still forced into. We have two, but she insists that she only uses hers, and mine lies neatly coiled and covered in a thin film of dust under my bed.

It’s a shame they never stop, my father used to say bitterly. I don’t remind him that train drivers don’t buy produce. He could sell snacks to them, maybe. The extra few coins would be welcome. But they probably bring lunch anyway, I think.

It’s not worth thinking about. The trains don’t ever stop, so my half-baked plans could never happen. I can still go and stand on the platform though, close my eyes for a few moments and see the smooth asphalt under my feet, the freshly painted yellow safety line and the illuminated words cycling through on the face of the sign hanging overhead. A suited man from the city looks at his phone, confused as to where to go. Children are herded by their parents, but one breaks away and stares through the glass face of a vending machine, surrounded by the ebb and flow of people. Opening my eyes stifles it all.

These days I think about what would happen if I found a long stretch of track, where drivers could see far along it. I’d do it on a clear day. I’d pack a bag and stand on the track. A driver would have to stop, if I gave him enough warning; if they saw me from far enough away. Even if they didn’t I’d still escape this town. I can’t lose, either way.