Just been sketching memories on the train…here’s one
In my head, I shot the woman.
It was the same journey we always did. Great Gran’s house to Glasgow Queen Street train station. Queen’s Street station to Edinburgh Waverley. Edinburgh Waverley to London King’s Cross. London King’s Cross to London Paddington. London Paddington to home.
It was difficult with a one month old. Then a one year old. Then a toddler.
How long left, mummy?
Only six hours now
Can we play eye spy?
So we do. We play eye spy. I spy something with my little eye beginning with, and she stares out of the train window until inspiration strikes. No, not a sheep. Sheep begins with s. My word begins with a b. Buh. B. No, not an elephant. That begins with an e and there are no elephants I can see. She giggles. Plays up to it. Tiger? No. Gorilla? No. Tractor? No. Bird? No, but that does begin with a b. Good guess, honey. We carry on till she guesses. Bushes.
She spies something with her little eye beginning with. She thinks. Beginning with cloud.
Is it a cloud? I say
Yes! She is over-joyed. Thinks I am a genius. Wants another go.
She spies something with her little eye beginning with…cloud.
Is it a sheep? I say.
No, she laughs.
This is difficult, I say.
She claps her hands.
Is it a field? I say.
No, mummy. She looks up out of the window, hinting.
I look up. She watches my eyes scan the sky. Fiddles on her seat.
Is it a plane? I say.
No! She bursts out laughing again.
Is it…a cloud? I say.
Yes! She hugs me. Wants to go again. She starts again:
I spy with my little eye something beginning with cloud.
I look around, thinking what it could be.
The first journey lasts almost one hour. I spot thirty clouds. The change of trains is easy. Twenty minutes. No stairs.
The second journey lasts four and a half hours. My bag is loaded with hard-to-peel fruit and bits of bread and cheese for her to build sandwiches from. I hope there’s a tea trolley soon.
After an hour, we spot the sea. We spot the caravans on top of the cliffs. We talk about going to one of them. We spot an elephant swimming further out in the waves. She giggles.
By Newcastle, she’s hungry. I pass her one lychee. She takes two minutes to peel and eat it and I close my eyes to ease the sting of tiredness a little, holding her hand as I do, just to be sure. She asks for another. I pass her one. Close my eyes again. I ask if she wants to put the peelings in the bin. She does. We go to the bin together and she jumps around in the vestibule for a few minutes.
We play snap. Quietly, I say. I show her how not to bang her hands so loudly on the table. The man opposite looks up again without smiling. I change the game.
We play eye spy again. I try to remember the names of clouds. I can only remember cirrus. She asks me if she can count the sheep instead. I thank the lord, as she stares out of the window and reaches thirty seven before the fields become barer again
She smiles at the man opposite. His response is so forced I think his lips must be constipated. The thought of this makes me laugh a little. I imagine his lips squeezing. I’d like to share the joke but I don’t have anyone to share it with.
By York, she’s hungry again. I lay a dishcloth out with slices of bread and cheese and she makes us both a picnic. She says she’s tired and sits on my lap and I read her four books and feel a bit queasy reading.
She asks for the chocolate. I remind her the pudding is for the last train. This one, then the underground, then the last train.
How long will it be till the last train?
Just three hours left poppet.
And then we share the chocolate?
Yes, I say.
Yes, she says, smiling.
She starts to fidget. I apologise to the new couple opposite us when she sings gently. They say it’s fine and I love them. She starts to fidget a bit more. We walk up and down the corridor ten times. I take my bag with me just in case.
She needs a wee. I carry her over the drips on the floor of the toilet cubicle, hold her on my hip while I wipe the seat clean of the previous man’s piss, make ugh noises to mimic hers and turn her disgust into a game not a struggle. She likes the voiceover about not putting jumpers and fish into the bin.
We sit again. I draw fifty dots on a piece of plain paper and she draws lines between them. We fill five pages of paper. We share some carrot sticks and pretend they are peoples’ legs walking into our mouths. She giggles and eats.
We change trains.
The lift is hard to find at Paddington. I have to put her in the pram because I can’t carry it and carry her and carry the bags. I balance her pram on the escalators with her in it and imagine us tumbling to the bottom, both dead, me to blame.
She falls alseep in the pram. We get to the next train and I have to fold the pram down because there is no space for it on the train. I wake her and grapple with the pram folding and she stands sobbing slightly into my leg because she’s tired and I can’t lift her and do the pushchair at the same time. It’s nearly evening now. I wonder if bedtime will be better or worse because of her tiredness. We find our seat. I soothe her crankiness with head strokes and a story. She points to the pictures and looks at me.
She asks if this is the chocolate train. I say it is. She waits. I pretend I can’t wait for the train to start moving to eat the chocolate. She scolds me to be patient. Says it’s our rules, remember. She feels the first jolt. I break the bar in half and we eat slowly and silently. I stare out of the window. Close my eyes. Taste the sweetness.
The woman opposite us looks up from her book. She smiles at me, head tilted a touch. I smile back. She looks at my daughter, mouth painted with chocolate and crumbs. Eyes heavy. She tells my daughter that they didn’t have snacks in her day. Advises me of the health effects of giving children too much sugar. Says it’s a shame for the kids is all. Smiles again, a little less this time. Goes back to her book.