The Young Man in the Station by R.T Hardwick

See the young man sitting, all alone, on a porter's trolley, staring out at the setting sun that shines so warmly through the graceful glazing of the curved train shed roof? See his white canvas hold-all and battered brown suitcase, and his precious guitar in its case? Why is he there? Is he travelling somewhere, or waiting for someone - a lost love, perhaps, or a relative to come to visit? 

There is a train standing at the platform, but our young man makes no attempt to board it. Instead, he sits, waiting and watching through his thick-rimmed spectacles, an earnest expression on his face. 

The fact is, our young man has no idea what to do. He has just left home after an argument with his stepfather, one of a series of rows that has culminated in his desperate flight, whilst his mother, helpless, looks on, unable to intercede, for the stepfather is strong, bad-tempered and brutal. The mother wonders what in the world possessed her to choose this modern-day Bill Sikes as a husband - loneliness after her divorce, she expects. There is not a day goes by when she does not bitterly regret her choice of lover. 

Our young man is a lonely and solitary one. He spends hours in his room with his guitar, writing his own songs that he hopes will make him a millionaire one day, but which are too mawkish and maudlin for today's market. It seems young people prefer tuneless, repetitive, expletive-riddled rap songs these days and our young man is a sensitive soul, a romantic Byron who has yet to taste the pleasure of true romance. His stepfather calls the songs 'tuneless drivel.' 

Our young man has little money, but what he has is safely gathered in a money belt around his waist. He has a fear of being robbed. He has a vague idea that he might journey to London and get a job in a bar, and perhaps make a few extra pounds playing his songs in folk clubs and pubs in and around the capital. He isn't sure, though, for he is a young man from the provinces, sitting on a porter's trolley in a provincial railway station, and he is afraid of the size and bustle of London. The thought of trying to find accommodation amongst nine million people hurrying and scurrying about the streets and the sheer expense of the place make him anxious. Many things make him anxious. 

He is clad in his usual brown sweatshirt, faded blue jeans and brown suede boots. He looks like an anachronism, a child of the 1950s, not the 2000s. His suitcase contains a change of clothes and his canvas hold-all a pack of sandwiches his mother made for him, her tears splashing down on the wholemeal bread as she cut the cheese and spread the chutney, whilst he tried to comfort her. She thinks she will never see her son again while that brute still lives with her. If she could do away with him she would, but she’s too scared. 

Our young man strokes his thick brown curly hair in frustration. It is now eight o' clock in the evening, and, although it is July, he has no wish to sleep under the stars or on the porter's trolley. Besides, he knows they close and lock the massive iron gates just after midnight, and the Transport Police come round and eject the drunks and stragglers that occupy any railway station in the dead of night. 

He hears the blast of a whistle, and a uniformed guard waves his baton. A big diesel grunts forward hauling the train of eight carriages. He remembers his maternal grandfather talking about the steam engines that frequented the station during the golden years of railway travel over half a century before. 

'Monsters they were,' said his Grandfather. 'Belching smoke and steam. The station walls and roof were all covered in soot whilst the hissing, panting beasts waited for the right away. And the smell. I only wish they could have bottled it. Beats your Yves St Laurent, any day. Magic, it was, pure magic.' 

Our young man recalls how much he loved his father, whom he hasn't seen for years, as well as his maternal grandfather. His dad is three hundred miles away, with a new wife, and his grandad is resting comfortably in his grave. 

At last, the young man makes a decision. He wanders over to the ticket-office, where a middle-aged, fat, balding man is reading a newspaper. The fat man peers through the ticket window at him and says: 

'Yes?' 

'I want to travel to Wales.' 

'Oh yes?' 

'And I wondered whether a train ran from here to Wales.' 

'Whereabouts in Wales?' asks the ticket clerk. 

'I don't know exactly.' 

'You don't know? How am I supposed to help you if you don't even know where you're going?' 'I suppose I could go to Cardiff or Swansea and ask around,’ says our young man. 'Well, they are in Wales, so that's a start.' The ticket clerk has quite a mordant wit. 'Do the trains go from here?' 

'Trains do go from here - it's a railway station.' 

'To Cardiff, or Swansea, I mean.' 

'Look, sonny,’says the ticket clerk, patience exhausted, ‘I haven't time to mess about with the likes of you. I haven't finished the crossword yet and I'm off shift in ten minutes. Here are some timetables. You can plot your route using them. Trains do run to Wales, but you'll have to change trains four times and you won't be able to start your journey until tomorrow morning.' 'Thank you.' 

Our young man takes himself back to his trolley and reads through the timetables, making notes in a small pocket notebook as he does so. Finally, he heaves himself to his feet with all his luggage and makes for the station entrance. He has to find somewhere to spend the night before he begins his journey of reconciliation tomorrow. 

Published in Issue #18

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