Brief Encounter

In which The Author meets a travelling companion

Here’s another of those stories which comes to mind from time to time, but which I keep forgetting to record for posterity. Don’t ask me how long ago it happened, because I can’t remember.
I can tell you that it was Xmas Eve, and I’d worked in Dillons that day. At the end of trading, we tore down the Xmas point of sale and started rigging up the Sale, which began on Boxing Day. I stayed until it was time to catch the last train to Aberdare, which wasn’t very late (6.30 p.m. or so).
As usual, the last train was pretty quiet. Most people had already made their way home, so the rest of the passengers were shopworkers and/or the diehards from office parties. At Cathays station a young woman boarded and made her way towards me. She was clearly a member of the second group, as she was rather unsteady on her pins.
‘Are you going all the way to Aberdare?’ she asked, plonking down in the seat next to me. She’d had a fair drink already, and it seemed that she was psyching herself to continue once she caught up with her friends at home.
‘Yes, I’m here for the duration,’ I assured her.
‘If I fall asleep, can you wake me up in time for Mountain Ash?’
It turned out to be a wise move. If only Gaz had thought of taking that precaution (see The Power of Suggestion) he could have saved himself a lot of money and embarrassment. Anyway, my new travelling companion and I chatted for a few minutes until, as she’d feared, she dozed off.
The rhythmic clickety-clack and gentle swaying of the train car has lulled me to sleep on many occasions, so she had my sympathy. After all, it happens to the best of us. One night, after a long day in work and a very warm train journey to Aberdare, I ended up in Cwmbach. I’d slept right through the station stop and woken up on the return leg. I was lucky in that it was a nice evening, so I bought some chips and walked home along the canal path. On the other hand, Leighton L. once spent a Sunday evening sleep-riding the Valley Lines network after a good session in the pub, when he should have been heading back to Swindon for work the next day.
The most alarming experience I had was when I woke up on the train from Bath to Cardiff. It changes direction at Bristol Temple Meads, and for a few minutes I was convinced that we were heading the wrong way – for Westbury, Salisbury or even Portsmouth Harbour. Only when the train shot through Filton Station did I realise that I was a lot further into the journey than I’d thought.
I’ve already related how I met Shanara the Dippy Bint on a train, when she swore she was just checking her eyelids for holes. I once greatly impressed Christos the Greek when I arrived at work and told him that Naj (Dippy’s sister) and I had woken up next to each other earlier that morning.
‘You bastard!’ he growled, very jealous of my good luck.
‘The only problem is that we were on the train in Queen Street,’ I assured him.
Anyway, as the train proceeded, the continued rocking motion caused my new friend to slide sideways in her seat. She was lucky, in one regard. She could have slid to her left, which would have dumped her unceremoniously into the aisle. Instead, she gently came to rest with her head on my shoulder. I carried on reading, trying not to make any sudden movements which might wake her. Her next slide left her with her head on my chest. I abandoned my book and wondered what would happen if she stayed in that position until Mountain Ash. At the very least she’d wake up with a stiff neck.
Then came the third and final slide. She ended up with her head at waist level, and with her face in my lap. I wondered whether, out of a spirit of chivalry, I ought to wake her at that point. But it was too late. I heard the cry of, ‘All tickets please,’ a few yards behind me.
I managed to get my ticket from my pocket without waking Sleeping Beauty, and showed it to the conductor as he came past my seat. He looked down at my unexpected guest and gave me an odd look.
‘I’ve never met her before in my life,’ I said, gesturing towards her.
‘Lucky bugger,’ he replied with a huge grin, and walked off down the aisle.
At Abercynon, the spell broke and she raised her head rather woozily from my lap.
‘Oh God,’ she gasped, ‘have I been like that for long?’
‘No, don’t worry,’ I told her. ‘Nobody saw a thing.’
She was most apologetic for the rest of the journey, and left the train at Mountain Ash without looking back. The only redeeming factor was that she was blonde, and therefore not my type at all. If she’d been a brunette or a redhead, who knows what unfortunate circumstances might have unfolded …
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