On Cancellations and Invitations

December 20, 2010

Frozen Travel
Image by Moi.

The worst brings out the very best in people good at heart.

To see the world covered by cottoned water is a phenomenon very familiar to myself, as I was brought up in a faraway land where ice reigns supreme during each of the wintery months. Admittedly, the beauty grew bitter to my senses’ tongue after decades of never-late cold, but things once learnt are hard to unlearn.

So when the world surrounding my humble dwelling, outside the great city of London, gradually disappeared beneath a downy, frozen blanket, I sighed: “Oh dear,” — as I had a flight north to catch — but was never the less not deterred.

As the clouds broke to pieces that slowly swirled from the place of their heavenly birth, I wrapped a scarf around my neck and buttoned my coat. My companion — my suitcase — was already standing by the door, longing to taste air, having been trapped indoors for so long.

Eventually I stepped out into the world, having locked my door twice. However, the cold deterred my companion and friend, and my bag made up its mind that it did not at all want to go. Sitting on its (w)heels, I had to persuade it to move by pulling it along with my weight as an argument, ploughing a broad trail in the snow as I went.

Halfway to the station a taxi took pity on me and offered to take me the rest of the way. That was however not to be as the slope to the station was too steep with all the snow, but I never the less ended up having to pay a full fare.

Struggling to reach the station on time, I trudged on, eventually making it onto a train following a cancellation and a false alarm. I had a man help me carry my bag onto the train — as although I can pull it along, I cannot lift it very far!

“Normally I’d charge you for this,” the grumpy not-very-gentlemanly man growled, and I foolishly smiled. (What else is there to do?)

Having brought the first part of my long journey to a close I sank into a seat and studied the world as it passed by the window by my eyes. Knowing every nook and cranny of the route by heart, the journey never the less kept me mesmerised; for the green meadows and ploughed fields were all frozen — stunning and white!

The train only brought me three stations farther towards my goal, and once back into the cold I found the connecting train was delayed — by heaven knew how long!

On the platform with me were people huddled up in jackets and scarves — staring, standing, waiting — what else is there really to do?

Half-way into our long, shivering wait, a train came along. It pulled to a stop, and its driver came out. Boiling water was brought and his horn was de-iced, but when questioned if his train — only standing there — could open its doors to allow the freezing people on board, the driver only shrugged his shoulders and said:

“This station is not a scheduled stop.”

And once the horn had been de-iced and the honk was confirmed, the train pulled away and disappeared within long.

The disappointment such oblivion brought was enough to tear down walls and break the bounds that otherwise keep people apart.

A man and his son — travelling north to the town of Shakespeare’s birth — started talking with a woman carrying the only cello of an orchestra upon her back. Farther away a man with a broken leg — most likely courtesy of the cold — spoke to the not-so-gentle man who had growled before.

By my side stood a man only recently arrived who ceased the opportunity to break the silence, too. He proved rather polite, and once the connecting train arrived he brought my heavy bag on board. And since the train had already travelled far, and few seats were left, we ended up carrying the conversation on.

We spoke as gingerbread villages — frosted with snow — passed by and the villages grew into towns and London gradually emerged. As the final station was reached the man fumbled in his pocket, concluding:

“I have run out of business cards!”

I took pity on his disappointment and gave him paper and pen — being given a name and a number — and I do have to admit, for me that was a first!

Stuffing it all back in my purse I carried on as I still had a flight to catch! Within the hour I reached the airport which I had sought — many pounds the poorer, and with the blood racing in my ears. (I did not at all have many minutes left to spare!)

But as I entered the airport, I realised my fears had come true, and by the time my flight had been to depart it was announced irony had sneered and snow was to keep me from returning to my home in the snowy north!

Sighing — as you do when such things are said — I caught the attention of a woman by my side.

“Oh heavens, what are we to do?” she said.

Neither I knew what was to be done.

So coffee was settled upon — it is after all human to drown sorrows with delight. A brief friendship was formed in that time of need, and we spent several hours in otherwise unlikely company.

But as time lingered on and the people around succumbed to despair, I realised nothing else could be done — that day, I was not going home. I therefore bade my new friend farewell and returned in defeat to the cold.

With no more time to keep I made my way to the trains, only to find a thousand — multiples thereof! — had come up with the same, brilliant plan! I however had no choice but to join them, within long being swallowed by the human ocean’s vast expanse.

At one point a speaker crackled to life:

“This is a security announcement,” the detached voice said. “Remember to keep close to your belongings~”

Was more said, it was not to be heard. The people crammed into one another with bags and whatnot only laughed — and I do have to admit, even my pursed lips parted with a smile.

Two hours thereafter I reached my goal, once more standing upon a platform waiting for a delayed train to arrive.

A young Canadian woman sighed from the corner where she sat:

“I am so hungry; I haven’t eaten since breakfast — and that was long, long ago!”

I took pity on her, and dug deeply in my purse. Triumphant I handed her the prize of my search; a snack — not large, but for the moment enough. She wanted to compensate me with monetary means, but I declined her offer, as I only wanted for her condition to improve.

“That’s the Christmas spirit!” she smiled, with her mouth full.

Although I nodded, I did not agree; that is simply what you do for others in need.

After a few hours more I finally made it back to my by then cold and dark home. I had to turn up the heat and light the lamps anew, silence my hunger and then crawl into bed to get some much needed sleep.

That day had proven much an ordeal. Some would have called it pointless, but as I lay back in a bed I thought I would temporarily have left, I could not help but strangely consider the day worth the while.

For, it seemed that the worst — what could so many broken plans otherwise be called? — never the less had managed to make the best surface in some kind, kindred souls. It had proven a very pleasant day, I thought, for never before had so many strangers broken their otherwise unquestioned silence and treat their fellow men as such.

Forgive me for what follows — but I think humanity as a whole would regain much of its worth were only more “disasters” to occur. For there is nothing that unites people with others of their kind as shared circumstances — and that, I do think — is something the world very regrettably has lost ~.

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