Fiction Work
  The Back Country
  An Australian In Russia
  Random Events
    All Strangers
    Kirsty Fitzmauice
    In the quiet carriage
      In the quiet carriage I have a favourite seat. It's back along the carriage, on the left. I get on about 5:30pm usually. It's light still, the day is over but the evening glow still persists and there's still 4 hours to ride on this train.

Sometimes I have eaten, sometimes not. Sometimes I have had a glass of wine, while waiting, at either the Covent Garden or the Palace. Sometimes not. Either way, I'm usually tired from the day's work and happy to sit and look and fall asleep maybe.

Between Central and Lithgow it's not too bad. I just observe. Cars and buildings and shops and parks and houses. It keeps me looking. By comparison, travelling from Lithgow onwards is dark and tedious. All I can see then is myself and other people's heads reflected in the windows. That section goes like paint drying and the hard seats just make my backside ache. I fidget.

Today is no different. I'm on the train at the right time. I've got my normal seat. I'm footsore but happy and it's easier than driving. One bloke on the other side has crisps and coke. A woman has a sandwich. An older pair sit silently: married people don't talk. A university age person is sleeping already. Behind me there's people too, a man directly behind me is on the phone: 'I am about to leave' he says. 'See you in a few hours.' I guess there's about 10 people here, but I can't see who. By Penrith it's getting dark and we are settled in.

A group gets on. They sit near the front and they're too noisy for the quiet carriage. He, she, an older brother, two young ones. 'Shut up', 'No you shut up'. 'Don't'. 'Sit down will you?' They talk and bicker and it's loud too. Sometimes in these situations, some person will make the effort to walk down to a noisy group, or to someone who is talking on their phone too much. 'This is the quiet carriage' they say. 'If you want to be noisy go to the other carriage'. No-one marshals this group though. No-one even glowers a them. We avoid eye contact. We sit mum. We pretend we are asleep. We don't want to get involved. We do want them gone, or quiet, but no-one is willing to say so.

They bicker for an hour. Then one of the young ones, a boy who is about 11, fires a ping pong ball down the corridor and starts to follow it on his hands and knees. He stops in front of each person's legs and looks up at them. 'Have you seen my ball?' he grins. They don't answer and they don't look at his elders either. They shake their head perhaps, or pretend to be asleep.

He crawls on. He fires the ball again, and asks the next person. It will be my turn soon. He gets to me. 'Have you seen my ball?' I say nothing. I just shake my head.

He fires the ball again, and looks up at the man behind me. 'Have to seen my ball?' he asks. 'Fuck off' the man says to the boy. The boys gets straight up, and walks briskly back to his group. He talks to them. The older brother looks my way, hopefully past me. He whispers to his Dad. An uneasy quiet settles. Occasionally they look my way. Nothing happens for some time. Then the older brother stands up. 'I can see you looking at me. You wait' he says. The tedious section is not so tedious tonight. Then I hear the bloke behind me on his phone. 'Hey mate, you better be there at the station. I might need some help. There are some people here who might jump me, and as you know I can't get into a fight. I'm on parole'.

We get to the station. I sneak a look at the man behind me as we stand to gather our bags. He's thin, wiry, stubble, nearly bald. We don't make eye contact. I just observe. There's police everywhere. On the platform, in the waiting room, in the car park. They're interviewing a few groups and one of them is the noisy one. I slip away.