by Jo Mortimer
Calma sits on a bench on a platform, waiting for a friend. At her side, a dirty, orange, cloth bag full of picture-books – on it, a badge: ‘ferretsfurrever’.
“Morning, Calma. Looks like another scorcher – waiting for a friend again?” asks a member of station staff. He doesn’t wait for her reply.
The London train slides in; Calma says good morning to each of the ten or twelve who disembark, her face lit by watery sun arcing over the station roof. Nobody replies. Calma juts out her chin, drops her hands to her lap and makes the shape of a smile.
Shiny shoes, paper cups and free newspapers flood the platform. But, we are sorry to announce that the train is delayed by approximately 43 minutes. Calma is told that unless she intends to ever board a train, she will have to move. “We can’t go through this rigmarole every day.”
From her new position, perched awkwardly on the saddle of a bike, Calma listens to phone calls of crumpled, annoyed people explaining their lateness; a flustered young woman sobs into the back of her hand, a fat man shouts, whispers and shouts again. Calma does not have a telephone. She is never late. She pulls a book from her bag and presses it tight to her chest. Nobody is sitting on her bench; everybody is pacing up and down. Calma knows it is ok to pace up and down all the time you are on a platform. She goes back to the bench and sits looking at cartoon pictures of a scraggly girl wearing a triangular dress with a big heart on the front. A skinny woman with a tight ponytail sits down with a huff. She is like a raincloud but still, Calma says, “good morning” and “these trains are always late.”
“No it isn’t” and “yes, they bloody are” the woman replies. The sun is high and bright above the roof; pigeons are pokingtheir heads out from behind pillars. Gold charges the blue sky, train tracks sparkle into the distance.
Calma bends down into her picture book; she can feel the woman’s eyes narrowing. “She,” the woman says, flicking at the face of the girl on the page, “is a bit like you.”
The member of station staff stands in front of them. “Now, listen Calma, what did I say? – what do I always say? We need the space for customers. This bench is only for people who get on the trains.”
A not-quite-proper voice comes over the tannoy. We are sorry to announce that this train has been cancelled. The woman next to Calma glares up at the man. “But there is no train so, if you don’t mind, until there is, me and my friend here are looking at a book.”
Jo Mortimer is writing from the south coast, and enjoying both.