Sunday 5 January 2014

Better Living Through Railway Stations

There are times when I can be in amongst lovely people, wonderful people, people who care about me and who I care about, and I end up feeling more anxious and stressed than if I were in a room full of strangers.  Amongst a busy throng of people who know me I feel under pressure to talk and be funny and be clever.  My mind goes blank; no, worse, that little voice inside of me starts shouting.  You can't think of anything to say?  Not one word?  You're just going to hide at the back like you're six years old all over again?

It was New Year's Day, and I could feel the panic and anxiety building up.  I began to sweat.  My breath became short.  My fingers and toes twitched.  I needed to get away.

I snatched up my coat, mumbled an excuse, and went out into the rain.  The cooling drops helped, and a march around the block helped too, but there was still that anger with myself, the loathing, the fury, the disappointment.

Then I saw the sign for the railway station, so I went there.

It was deserted of course.  Unstaffed.  Cold white sodium lights bore down on the little concourse.  The ticket machine flicked through its cycle of sleep screens.  The wind whipped in through one porte cochere at the side and out the one at the front, past the taxi office with the silhouetted controller.  A single train was sat at one of the two platforms.

I felt myself began to unravel again, but in a good way this time.  My tightly knotted psyche began to uncurl.  My pounding heart settled into a calmer rhythm.

I think it's the anonymity.  I hate being a centre of attention; hate getting compliments; even hate it when people use my name.  In a railway station, I'm just a traveler.  Not a customer - not eyed up for my financial worth.  Hang around Marks and Spencer's for too long and people will think you're a shoplifter.  On a station I'm just a person passing through.  I can hang around it, sit to one side, breathe, and I'm anonymous.  Just a face amongst others.

Go to any railway station, big or small, and you're just a body in the mass.  You're a man who is only a silhouette.  It's why they're so beloved of spies and hookers and drug dealers, of course; why so many assignations begin beneath huge station clocks, where you can loiter and not attract attention.  Even the tiniest halt, a single platform beside the sea, encourages you to dwell and wait. 

I relaxed on that station concourse.  I became me again.  Because I wasn't expected to be me.

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