Short Story: Rails
Short Story: Rails
When a young woman abandons technology and travels to the opposite side of the world to find happiness, she learns it can be discovered in the most unexpected of places.
Today was the first day I woke completely stress-free. I had fallen asleep in my little bed with a book against my chest. It had been years since I had fallen asleep while reading, I would usually be on my phone checking Facebook or playing repetitive games for hours before retiring for the night.
It was 5.15am in my old hotel room. It was small and the ceiling had patches of mould that could have been producing that damp, musky smell.
But somehow, despite the appearance of the place, it felt like home. The small single bed with a thin mattress that barely hid the springs of the metallic frame was a comfortable change from the stiff seat of a long-haul aeroplane trip.
It felt like weeks before that I had landed in my destination, not days. It took a total of 39 hours to reach this hotel from the airport back in Perth. Flight delays and missing luggage were some of the hindrances from a speedy journey.
I let my eyes open in their own time, while my other senses gradually explored the new environment. I finally awoke fully and flung my legs over the side of the bed, where they landed on the carpeted floor. Under my feet I could feel the scratchy carpet and the little grains of sand and dirt that the vacuum cleaner had missed.
I spotted today’s outfit on top of the sofa in the corner of the little room, where I had organised it the night before. It took me all of 15 minutes to get ready, make-up and all. I gathered up the few belongings I had with me and neatly packed them into the little suitcase I had brought. I locked up the room and was on my way.
Downstairs in the lobby, the rude old man stood riffling through papers while he frowned. When he heard my approach he looked up, unimpressed. Not even he could dampen my good mood. I greeted him politely in his language and he took back the room key and charged me for my night’s stay. We parted ways with a smile and I was out the door on the street, where the city of Paris overwhelmed me.
It was marvellous. There seemed to be cafés at every turn and where I should eat breakfast seemed to be an impossible choice. The stone streets invited me longingly onto them and I skipped as I made my way towards the station. On the way I stopped at a gorgeous little café and enjoyed a warm butter croissant and a scalding hot cappuccino. How could I resist in Paris?
I finally made it to the station and it was no later than 6.45am. I was early, which was quite unusual for me. Back home I was somehow running late and stressing about time everywhere. But here, where I remain stress-free and unconcerned about time, I am early. Funny how things work out like that.
My train was scheduled to leave at 7.05am, but the uniformed men and women were already leading people to their cabins. The train was glorious. This marvellous, mammoth train travels from Paris to Istanbul, stopping along the way to explore cities throughout Europe. A strapping young woman in a blue uniform escorted me to my cabin and helped me place my luggage in the appropriate spot within. I thanked her with a tip and she smiled as she left me to my thoughts. I took a massive breath and looked around my little cabin. I had purchased one on the cheaper side, but it was so beautiful, it made me wonder what the first-class cabins must look like. The bed was small but definitely big enough for me, at only 5’4”.
I took off my coat and scarf as the temperature inside the train was perfectly altered for the utmost comfort. Before I left my cabin I redid my frizzy hair, as it had been hiding underneath my beanie since I’d left the hotel. I tied it up into a high bun and made my way out of my cabin. I walked down the corridor and observed other passengers setting up their cabins and removing their winter overcoats. I never had to wear so much clothing back home and the cold shocked me, so the warmth of the train was a lovely addition to the journey. I made my way to the dining quarters, where the waiters were bustling around, cleaning tables and setting up for the day. Lunch would be served between 11.30am and 3pm and dinner from 5pm to 9pm.
The running of the train was smooth and precise and the workers on the train “took pride in their efficiency and dedication to procedure”, or so it said in the brochure. I walked through the restaurant and smiled and nodded at the busy people toiling away. I made my way to a sitting area where an old woman wearing a yellow dress and red shoes sat propped up against the window on a sofa reading a novel. I managed to make out the spine of the book and deciphered the title to be Wuthering Heights. I hadn’t read that one.
I decided, after my exploration of the train, I would join this woman in some reading. She looked very content and at ease as her eyes whisked from left to right, and page to page. How I hoped to be like her when I was her age, reading peacefully on trains throughout Europe.
I continued down the train until I could no longer, then I turned around to make my way back to my cabin. In my cabin I opened up my suitcase and on top found a notebook and a little pencil case. I pulled them both out and then the novel, which was hidden beneath. I sat on my bed and, pen in hand, began to write. I told my parents I would write to them as often as I could and continue to update them in that fashion, maybe even attach a postcard.
After I swore off using my phone and laptop, I reverted to good old paper and pen. There is something so special about writing a story or letter by hand. It becomes artistic and personal and you seem to spill your heart out onto the pages. I sat on the edge of the bed scribbling away for at least half an hour.
When I was done, I ripped the pages out of the notebook, folded them into thirds and placed them into an envelope that was hidden in the back of the notebook.
I wrote on the front of the envelope my parents’ names and their address back home in Western Australia. I tucked it in my handbag ready to post when I got the chance and made my way back to the sitting area with my novel in my hand.
The old woman was still there and the seat opposite her was unoccupied so I sat down. She glanced up momentarily, sensing the arrival of another passenger, then quickly returned to her book. For the few seconds our eyes locked, I could see they were a dazzling mixture of turquoise and hazel and she was quite beautiful.
We sat opposite each other reading our books silently for almost 45 minutes, when a waiter walked up to us and asked us if we would care to have a drink. The woman looked up from her book at the young man and said in a steady voice, “That would be lovely, young man. I’ll have a pineapple juice, thank you.” He nodded at her and then looked over to me.
“I’ll have the same, thanks,” I said quickly. He nodded and left to submit our orders. The woman looked at me and smiled, I smiled back. We both went back to reading silently for a few more minutes, until our drinks were brought out.
The same young waiter placed them on the glass coffee table between us and departed to serve the other passengers in the area. The woman and I reached for the same glass at the same time. “Oh, sorry,” I giggled, embarrassed.
“No, please take it,” she said with a smile. I smiled back and took the glass. It was chilled and gloriously refreshing. The woman sipped on hers politely and I could see she enjoyed the glass of juice as much as I did.
“Nice, isn’t it?” I smile, thinking this was a perfect time to start a conversation.
“Delicious!” she exclaimed in her crisp English accent. We spoke for hours about our lives, our past and our future. Her name was Roxanne. She’d been a nurse back in London and worked with special needs children. She was a foster parent and had adopted seven children with her late husband, George.
He had died of pancreatic cancer early last year and she had struggled with his death immensely. They were married for 58 years.
She told me that before he died, her husband had told her to travel and rediscover the young adventurous woman he had fallen in love with.
All seven of her children were grown and had their own families so she was ready to live for herself again. She was inspiring. She had so many stories and listened to mine, though they were not as interesting. I told her how I had thrown away my phone and left home for an adventure. She questioned me as to why I suddenly wanted such a drastic change and I was stumped.
“I guess I wasn’t happy,” I had said. And that’s the truth of it. Not much more complicated than that.
She smiled at me and asked, “Are you happy now?”
“I’m starting to be.”
We laughed and cried at each other’s stories for hours. We spoke for so long we decided to have lunch and then dinner together. At dinner, we ate like queens and talked about how we would explore the new cities we would see. We even promised to stay in touch as we each conquered the world.
We were halfway through dessert when she said, a little drunk from the wine, “I’ve always wanted to travel to Australia, is it nice?” From there we planned a trip together where we would caravan across Australia and explore the deserts.
This woman was amazing. Her silver hair was shimmering as we parted to go to our separate cabins for the evening. As I walked, a little tipsy, back to my cabin, I could still smell her fragrant perfume.
Back in my room, I reopened my notebook and wrote about the sitting room where I met Roxanne. I would add these pages to my letter for Mum and Dad and post it the very next day. I couldn’t wait for them to meet her; I just knew my family would love her.
I stuffed the extra pages into the already-sealed envelope and re-stuck it with some tape I managed to find in my pencil case. I put the envelope back in my handbag along with my pencil case and notebook. I climbed into my pyjamas and sat in my bed ready to sleep after my long day.
As my new tradition dictates, I pulled out a book and started reading.
Wuthering Heights. Roxanne said it was good.
About our Short Story author:
Twenty-one-year old Jade completed a degree in film and media studies last year and hopes to pursue a career in acting. She has been involved in local theatre productions and several short student films, and hopes to one day be in films and on Broadway. Jade has always had a passion for writing and plans to write a novel, which she wants to develop into a script for film or television.