February 27, 2012 by rebelwithalabelmaker

Tonight, I’m travelling by train.  It’s my favourite way to travel.  There’s something about it—the heritage buildings, the view of the world flying by, the feeling of cozy warmth.  The relaxation of not worrying about traffic.  I’m in Ontario, where the driving scares me.  As does the flying.  Well, not the flying so much as the Airport Security Keeping Us All Safe From Terror. 

I’m travelling right now in an area covered by a soft blanket of snow.  This evening, as we all gathered at the station to wait to board, the TV screens on the wall showed the usual flickering glimpses of the world.  Ambulances.  Upset people.  Usual stuff for the news.  And then a VIA rail car.  The lounge went quiet.

Along a route very close to the one I was about to travel, a train went off the tracks.  The casualty rate was still to be determined—but it sounded like it would be pretty typical for the kind of thing you see on the news.  But, seeing the twisted wreckage of one of the exact cars we were about to board was unnerving.

In the Toronto station, as I waited for my transfer, things were pretty quiet.  It’s late Sunday night, after all.  For me, it was peaceful.  It’s been a crushingly busy stretch these last couple of months between January classes and getting this weekend’s workshop ready.  Now that it’s done, I’m catching my breath before finishing my last few papers.  I sat on a bench underneath the huge stone cathedral ceiling of the main station, and watched people come and go.  Via Rail employees huddled in pods, talking.  It may have been my imagination, but they seemed unusually gentle with one another.  Talking in low tones, reaching out now and again to touch a shoulder or an arm.

The news is updated.  Three VIA employees have died.  It’s a small company, CBC says.  People know each other.  For the rest of the night I am eerily aware that every blue uniformed person taking my ticket or telling me to have a good evening likely knows one—if not all—of the casualties.  I’m sorry, I want to say—but I also don’t want to intrude.

“Excuse me,” a young woman says to me, as I sit in the Toronto station “Did you come in from Burlington?  On the bus?”

“No,” I answer, and it takes a minute for me to register that this is the city where the accident happened.  The woman thanks me anyways, and resumes pacing.  She pulls out her phone and has a brief conversation.  Guiltily eavesdropping, I learn that a loved one of hers is being bussed in from the accident site.

The loved one is fine, as is everyone on the bus.  She’s even spoken to this person—people have lent one another cell phones, from the sound of it—but that’s not enough.  There is something about looking right into someone’s face, wrapping your arms around them, and hearing their voice in your ear.  She paces.  I wish I could say something useful.

I am sad, in moments like these.  And also strangely at home.  It’s a sacred pause, when things run deep.

The woman looks tired—it’s late.  She must be cold—this big stone cathedral ceiling wasn’t built for comfort, I think, as I sink a bit further into my coat.  I wonder if the person she’s waiting for annoyed the heck out of her last week—I’m betting they did.  I wonder if this morning she woke up with a head full of to dos and a bathroom full of laundry to get through.  I wonder if she pauses in the middle of it all, sometimes.

I’m sure she muses, now and again, about life.  I’m sure that she, like all people, sometimes wonders what it’s all about.

But not tonight.  She doesn’t wonder tonight, as she cranes her neck to scan each group of passengers that moves through the hall.

Tonight, she knows.


One thought on “Tracks

  1. Evan says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful human interst story Liz. Your prose paints a vivid picture of the station and the mood.

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