He checks his watch. Two minutes.
A chill wind blows down the exposed platform, prompting him to pull his collar up tightly around his neck. Should have worn a warmer jacket. Hopes he won’t catch a cold and have to spend another weekend in bed.A tannoy announces destinations he hasn’t even heard of. Let alone visited. Towns where people live and die, thousands of them, tens of thousands, millions perhaps. People he doesn’t know, lives he cannot imagine; joy, sadness, love, passion, despair, hope.
He looks down the line, willing the train to arrive. All he sees are some badly-placed apartment blocks; social housing, no doubt, that must surely shake when the near-endless freight trains clatter by in the early hours of the morning.
The air is icy, gelling any odours, smells or perfumes his nose might have picked up were it not already blocked. He blows his nose on a dry corner of an oft-used tissue.
One minute. Shouldn’t it be here by now? He did say the 10.50 train, didn’t he? He pulls a crumpled scrap of paper from his pocket. Yes: car 5.
His mouth is dry, a sliver of his hastily-consumed dinner of beans on toast still sticks to one of his back teeth. He picks it off with his finger and licks it, his tongue reminded of the sweet tomatoey taste of the sauce. His belly rumbles. Should have finished his plate. And had something to drink. Too late to think about that now.
Did I get the right platform? He looks up nervously, but the board allays his fears. This is the one. This is where it’ll arrive.
A bland, instantly recognisable jingle is followed by a pre-recorded woman’s voice warning him to stay away from the edge. Even though he’s nowhere near. A through train whizzes past on the opposite platform.
And then it comes. Fast at first, the car numbers too small to read, a blur as his head twists from side to side with the train like a spectator at a Formula One race. Then slower: 12, 11, 10.
And slower: 9 ... 8.
Finally it comes to a stop. Car 7, first class. He’s too far down, hurries along the platform as the first passengers alight. Businessmen mainly, returning home after too long at the office. Or maybe a business trip. Eager to get home to their wives and their dogs. And maybe what’s left of dinner.
A door opens at the far end of car 5. James smiles.