The blistering cold numbed my eyes as I stumbled through the biting snow, dragging a dull, faded suitcase overloaded with necessities behind me, leaving a trail in the deadly, icy snow.
"All aboard!" a man in a bright red suit, a funny red hat and an equally crimson nose called, his voice straining to be heard over the howling wind.
I struggled up to him and handed over my ticket, which was faded from sweat, tears and bitter snow. The man, who I safely assumed was the train conductor, glanced briefly at the ticket, then smiled at me slightly. "Terrible morning, isn't it?" he commented. I did not reply. "In for a long ride, I see!" he added when he saw my ticket. I gave no response as I checked my heavy bag. He beamed wider as he said, "Welcome aboard the Windows Express, ma'am!"
I tried to smile back, but my scarf was bundled around my nose and mouth, so I nodded instead. "Thank you." My voice was barely audible over the gusty breeze as I stepped off the platform and boarded the train. The front compartment was crowded, packed like sardines. I squeezed past the numerous bodies to get to the next train car, which was where I was to be seated. Even though the warmth there was comforting, I hoped it was not too stuffy in my car.
I finally broke free from the crowd, swinging the car door open and entering a considerably cooler car. I removed my scarf from my face. My skin was raw with cold, but I barely felt it. I glanced around. This car was deserted, the seats along its aisle empty. I checked the number of the compartment I had been assigned, then opened the door to it. There was a small bunk bed in the corner, with a little closed off area I guessed was the restroom. I dumped my overloaded suitcase on the bottom bunk. I glanced out the single window, but there was nothing to be seen through the fog and sleet that plummeted so hard against the glass it felt like hail. Feeling suddenly claustrophobic in the narrow compartment, I briskly threw off my jacket and exited, walking back into the aisle. I noticed a door at the back of the car and decided to check it out. I made my way down the aisle and slid the door open.
It led into the next car. This one did not have seats, but little booths lined up neatly along either side. There was a bellboy near the back, tending to a little refreshment stand. His eyes were bored, even as he attempted to greet me pleasantly. "Hello, ma'am, welcome to the lounge. Would you like anything? Some pie, perhaps, or a cup of coffee?"
Uninterested, I declined politely, just as another door caught my eye. Without thinking, I flung it open. There was nothing in the room except a door with a window fixed into it, and a shiny red handle. "This is where you'll be disembarking," the bellboy informed me. "That there's the emergency brake," he added, pointing at the handle. "You're perfectly welcome to pull that at any time."
Taken aback, I spluttered on my Coke. "What? I wouldn't. That's ridiculous. Then how will I get to where I'm going?" I demanded incredulously.
The bellboy shrugged. "Sometimes you can't rely on trains to get you to where you want to go."
I stared openly at him. Quickly dismissing him as crazy, I turned away and hastily returned to my compartment. Once safely inside, I lay on my bed, thinking to myself about my destination, I place I had never been and I face I had not seen for so many years it hurt to think about it. Flashbacks began to attack my once-peaceful mind, invading my would-be calm pondering. At four years old, my hands pressed tightly over my ears, trying in vain to block out the sounds of heated arguments over nothing. Seven years old, an empty bottle crashing over my head as I tried to escape the debris of broken plates. Thirteen years, bruises covering my face, blood on my hands, a broken ankle, pain enveloping my body. Sixteen, my broken ribs causing me to shake as I slammed the front door behind me and limped as fast as I could into the night, my mother screaming for me to come home and my father's threats chasing after me...
I jerked awake, nearly falling out of bed. My head felt heavy, and my eyes groggy, as if I had not slept in days. Sluggishly, I checked my watch, which still hung from my wrist. My eyes snapped wide open as they read the time, then relaxed again. My watch had stopped at around the same time I boarded the train. I got up, feeling tired, and felt my stomach growl. I stood up, stretched, brushed my hair hurriedly with my fingers and left the compartment.
I was about to go to the lounge to eat when I noticed another girl sitting on a seat in the aisle, next to the window. She was clothed very thinly for the morbid weather, and her long locks of auburn hair poured over her shoulders. I approached her slowly. "Hello," I said, and she jumped in surprise. "Sorry for startling you, but do you have the time?"
She looked up at me, and I saw a thin, ragged face that would have been pretty if not for the exhaustion consuming it, and the melancholy sadness in her eyes. "Oh, hello, it's quite alright. Let me check." She lifted her mobile phone from her pocket, glanced at it, then shook her head apologetically. "Strange. It seems to have died. I could've sworn I charged it yesterday."
I thanked her anyway, and asked her where she was going.
She looked even more weary when I questioned her. "I'm going to see my long-distance partner of four years," she said, in an almost rehearsed answer. "I think he may propose to me, but I doubt I'm ready for such a change." She drifted off, her voice trailing away, then came to her senses and asked me where I was headed.
"I'm going to see my father. I haven't seen him for nearly a decade," I said quietly. "I can't say I'm looking forward to it."
She agreed with me, and we made small talk for a while longer before I excused myself and went to the lounge.
The bellboy was not there anymore, and I breathed an inward sigh of relief. The batty guy had really freaked me out. I saw someone sitting down in one of the lounge booths. Hidden behind stacks of paperwork and a newspaper sat a middle-aged man in an impressive suit and tie, muttering to himself in what looked like disgust. I walked over to him. "Hi, sorry to bother you, but have do you know what time it is?"
He glanced up and stopped grumbling. "Hmm? Oh, yes." He shot a look at his fancy wristwatch. "Well, what is this? My watch isn't working!" He began to mumble again.
I found it strange that nobody knew the time, so I stole a glimpse of the watch, and sure enough, it ceased to tick. "That's a shame," I said good-naturedly, and asked him what he was doing.
"It's for a case I have," he replied. I must have looked puzzled, because he elaborated. "I'm a lawyer, you see, and I'm about to defend one of the biggest drug cartels of all time – then again, I probably shouldn't have told you that." I was about to leave him in peace when he continued on. "In my defence, my client is one of my oldest friends. I owe him my life and he's gotten me out of tons of scrapes. I really have no choice."
I began to feel a little uncomfortable, and averted my gaze to rest on the window. To my surprise, evening was already over – the sun was rising on another day! Had I missed my stop? I was supposed to be off the train by dusk, yet here was dawn, a new day beginning right before my eyes!
Panicking, I ran back to my car and asked the girl, still sitting on her seat, "What time did you get on? Which state are you going to?"
Bewildered, she told me the details of her travel. I calculated in my head.
"But that would only take you a few hours! You should have arrived by now," I said, unable to keep my voice from getting louder.
She seemed indifferent. "Maybe we made a few stops along the way. I wasn't awake the whole time, you know."
But I had it all figured out. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together, forming an unbelievable picture in my head. I ran back into the lounge, and threw open the door at the back of it, where the emergency brake was. The lady came racing after me, asking where I was going.
"Look, it's the emergency brake. If we pull it, we'll be able to get out of here!" I exclaimed.
She looked at me the same way I had looked at the bellboy – as if one of us had gone bonkers. "What? Are you crazy? Why? It's ridiculous. Then how will I ever get to where I'm going?"
I smiled at the distinct resemblance her words had to mine. Reaching over, I grasped the red handle in my right hand and pulled as hard as I could. The train screeched against the metal of the tracks. I pushed against the exit door, and it opened as easily. I leaped off the train. The ground was icy and cold beneath my feet, and the cold wind cut my uncovered face like a knife. I became aware that I did not even have my jacket with me as the cold began to envelope my very being.
"What are you doing? You'll freeze to death!" the girl cried to me. "You don't even have your suitcase with you."
I vaguely recalled my stuffed baggage, filled with things I suddenly realized were of no importance to me. And just like that, suddenly, I felt free. Free of all my emotional baggage, free of everything that ever weighed me down, free of guilt, of pain, of sorrow. A sense of warmth, a beautiful feeling, filled up my body, and I no longer felt the chill. I turned back to the train, smiling a genuine smile for the first time in years. "Why don't you come with me?" I asked the girl.
She shook her head, eyes wide. And then the train door slammed shut, and it began to move again.
Free of doubt, I turned from the sight of the train, slowly receding out of sight until it vanished, and began to trudge through the snow, in the direction of my destination.
Sometimes we are weighed down by pain, grief and guilt. We go through life day by day, merely existing, not living, and time stands still. Those days we live so burdened by our emotions are meaningless and pass by without notice or purpose. If we could just let go of it all, forget our troubles for a few seconds, and look around us, perhaps we would see the beauty we are meant to see, and the wonder we would feel if we only let go.
A/N: This story was written for a school magazine.