The train rattles down the line, stopping at each station just as it always had.
There’s a steady rhythm to all the creaks and rumbles of the carriage, creating layer upon layer of percussion. It reminds her of music. She sits alone by the window, tapping her foot to the beat of the train and humming under her breath. Her violin sits in its case at her feet. She had played by the station all day, her fingertips blistered and bleeding as she ran through the songs of her childhood.
She had made very little money that day.
Some people had smiled in pity and dropped a coin into her case, but most of the crowd had rushed passed without even noticing the sweet melody she was producing with her beaten-up violin. She had become a part of the background to them. She closes her eyes and counts backwards from a hundred until all the indifferent faces of the day have faded from her mind. When she opens her eyes her reflection blinks back at her in the window.
She tries to look passed it.
She forces her gaze on all the pretty houses that rush passed the window. They look so perfect with their tended gardens and picket fences, as though the occupants spent all their days making them pristine.
Her reflection suddenly jumps back into focus.
Again, she forces it away.
Her father’s voice rings in hears ‘Try playing it again, but this time do it in the harmonic minor scale, little one. It will make their hearts burst with sadness.’ Her eyes prickle for a moment. Eventually her gaze moves further and further away from her scarred reflection until it finds a point so distant that her pupils shrink to pinpoint size.
She sits there, dreaming of music and a time when they had shared the violin.
A boy sits with his back to the woman.
His fingers knead the acne-scarred skin over his forehead in neat little circles, passing over his eyebrows towards his temples. The train sounds much louder to him. It roars with all the violence and ferocity of a winter storm. He closes his eyes. Her quiet humming is getting on his nerves. Even his pulse is too loud. It merges with the beat from the train tracks, forming a wall of noise that crashes over him in waves.
He had begun his first shift at two in the morning.
It had been hard at first, but after a certain period of time his body had adjusted to the early hours. Many things had changed since then. For one thing, he no longer liked the smell of freshly baked bread and hot cinnamon doughnuts. For another, he had saved enough money to move as far away from his brother as possible.
It hadn’t been a choice in the end.
The drugs and the booze had turned him into someone else entirely, just as it had their mother. That was the most painful part of it all. He hadn’t been able to save his little brother, even though it had been his job.
He had failed.
He pushes the thought from his mind and counts how many hours sleep he will get if the train isn’t delayed again.
An old lady sits in the corner, studying a map of the train lines on the wall above her.
She squints at the colourful lines, looking for a name that isn’t there. After a long moment she seems to give up and looks down at her gnarled old hands. They were beautiful once, those wrinkled hands, but now they ache from arthritis and won’t behave the way she needs them to.
Her brow furrows.
It will be dark soon and she’s no longer sure that she can remember the way back home. Sometimes the world seems so unfamiliar. The details slip. But she knows that those little details can be very important in the grand scheme of things.
She digs through her purse and takes out a pad and pen.
Her fingers struggle to grip the biro, but after several attempts she begins to write in awkward letters across the crisp bit of paper. She writes about the young lady with her scars and her violin case. She writes about the boy with his head drooping down into his hands like a wilted flower.
She writes because that is what she has always done.
She knows that these scraps of paper are her only means of remembering, and a little part of her believes that perhaps it will help her find her way back home, like stars guiding a lost mariner.