By Vicki Delany
I have my own seat on the train.
Every morning, Monday to Friday, rain or shine, I catch the 6:53 GO Train into Toronto. I always get on (via the rear door) the car that stops by the old maple tree and rush up the stairs. I sit in the second group of four seats, on the left, by the window, facing forward.
Every morning for almost ten years now, I have sat in that seat on the 6:53. Oh, there have been days I have missed. Sometimes I will have an early appointment or I sleep in and get a later train. Some stormy winter days, the train is overfull with car-drivers who have wimped out due to the weather and on the stop before mine they have carelessly taken my seat. But I don't mind, I can share, as long as it doesn't happen too often.
I know my fellow passengers well, although I have never spoken to any of them. It would never do, to actually speak to a stranger on the train. No one does. It would break our urban resolve, the shell of contempt for mere mortals in which we surround ourselves. On the rare occasion that two friends board the train together, or meet by accident, their conversation echoes throughout the silent coach, and I can tell that all the regulars are just as annoyed as I. Who wants to listen to the mindless chatter of inconsequential strangers when there are newspapers to read, papers to review, books to return to, thoughts to think?
Nevertheless I feel as if we are old friends. There is The Lawyer - crisp, reserved, immersed in his morning paper. Whether or not he really is a lawyer, of course I have absolutely no idea. The Sad Lady - who sits and stares blankly out of the train window every morning; on occasion I have even seen a tear slip quietly down her cheek. The Mouse - tiny, inconsequential thing, trying to make herself as invisible as possible. Thin brown hair cut into a page-boy, brown eyes, brown twin-set; although once in a long while she will go wild and appear in public in a daring suit of grey or navy blue. Tubs and Tubless – he, a giant of a man, huge fleshy face, giant beer belly, hips overflowing into the seat beside him, always accompanied by the tiniest woman I have ever seen. If not for her lined, worn face and grey hair you would swear she was only a child. I have never, in ten years of travelling the train, seen Tubs without Tubless. They must take their vacation and sick time together.
Once, out for my daily walk at lunchtime, I passed The Lawyer on the street. I almost cried out "Hi, how are you!" I caught myself just in time.
Ten years ago I, like many of you, was a car-driver. I also clambered into my car every morning to brave the rush of traffic, to take my life into my hands on the highways. But unlike many others I faced only a short - a very short - drive into work. That is why many of my friends were perplexed when I decided to accept a transfer into the city.
“You'll regret it,” they all said. “You'll hate the daily grind on the train.” The droolers and bobbers they called train passengers. “You'll be sorry.”
But I wasn't. Not for a minute. For on the train, I am alone; I am left entirely to myself. No one asks me for anything, no one ever disturbs my reading or my contemplation of life. My friends, the Lawyer and the Mouse and all the rest, don't want a single thing from me, except that I also leave them alone.
I get up in the morning and the rush is on. Shower, makeup, iron the shirt I forgot to iron yesterday. Make the breakfast, children out of bed. Mommy, I have to have 50 cookies for the class today. I have to, I have to, I have to. Mother, I need $10 for the book I lost, or I won't get my report card. You do remember, honey, that twenty of my closest business associates are coming for dinner tonight; have something really special, okay? My entire career depends upon impressing the boss tonight.
Every morning a desperate rush to get everyone to where they have to be. Then.... bliss. Quiet, relaxation, peace for a whole half an hour.
But last Monday morning, when I returned from my vacation, there he was, sitting in my seat. Well, I didn't mind, not really. Sometimes a newcomer will appear on the train. It always takes them a few weeks to find a seat in which they’re comfortable. But the next day he was there again, not looking at all uncomfortable. Which is more than you could say about me. I was starting to feel distinctly irritated.
Now some of you may be wondering what was the big deal. Surely, I could find another seat. And indeed, you are right, I could find another seat. But I wanted my seat. If your house burned down, would you say, Oh well, I can find another? If your child were kidnapped, would you take someone else’s?
For three days, I tolerated the stranger in my seat. On the fourth day, I realised that I would have to take action. I plopped myself down on the seat opposite the chair-napper. I was now seated backwards, I detest sitting backwards: to see where you have been rather than where you are going.
I shifted in my seat constantly, I crossed and uncrossed my legs, muttering, "Excuse Me" if I "accidentally" kicked him in the ankle. I stared at him intently, and quickly averted my glance whenever he chanced to look up. I stretched out my neck and peered over my glasses to read the headlines on the back of his newspaper. When I rose to leave I even managed to swing my purse with enough force to knock the paper out of his hands. I mumbled “Sorry” as I made my escape.
I got off the train with a feeling of great satisfaction. I was confident that my seat would be empty the next day.
But it was not to be. To my horror, there he was again. As large as life, sprawled contentedly in place, briefcase stowed under the seat, newspaper already unfolded. Desperate measures were called for. I would have to break the ultimate taboo in commuter train travel. With steely determination and iron resolve I began.
"Do you take this train every day? I do, I always take the 6:53, I find the later trains much too crowded, don't you? And it is usually easy to find a good parking spot close to the platform. I work at a bank, so my office is quite near to the station. Just a nice five-minute walk. Is your office nearby? Where do you work? Goodness me, what has the prime minister done now, you don't mind if I read just the front page of your paper do you? Thank you ever so much, it is so important to stay informed, wouldn't you agree?"
We rolled on through the countryside and into the suburbs. The tidy tree-lined streets began to give way to railway yards and factories. Still I droned on. I was a desperate woman.
At last the endless journey was over. "Soooo pleasant talking to you," I trilled as I stumbled to my feet, overbalancing and steadying myself against his chest. "I do so look forward to talking to you again on Monday".
You can imagine my dismay when on Monday morning I found him ensconced yet again in my seat.
I sat down with a disgusted "thud" and glared at the seat-stealer. He continued reading his newspaper and took no notice of my indignant stares.
I simply did not have the spirit to repeat my display of last week. I had felt like such a total fool, babbling away endlessly, disturbing everyone else's journey.
This was just too, too much.
I stared out of the window and considered my options. They were few. I could find another seat; that would be admitting defeat. I could continue to attempt to make the trip so uncomfortable for the fellow that he would finally move; but that plan had failed miserably so far, I had no reason to believe I would succeed in future.
Or I could drive him away. Permanently.
As I have said previously, I was a desperate woman. But how desperate? I stared at my reflection in the train window.
Perhaps, I thought, I will merely keep my options open. I could follow him and see where he went, what he did with the rest of the day. A good plan. I nodded with satisfaction, my reflection nodded back. I would merely follow him and take advantage of any situation that came up.
As we disembarked and slowly made our way along the platform, I kept my eyes on my quarry. It was easy to keep up with him in crowded Union Station but once he broke free of the throng it was difficult to stay close.
We emerged into the dim light of early morning, swept along by the crowds of commuters. I followed him up Bay Street, for quite some time. He was certainly a fast walker and I was getting short of breath trying to keep up (unobtrusively, of course).
I swear - I had no intention of actually harming the poor man. I had no intentions at all, really. But I saw my chance and took it without properly thinking things through. Temporary insanity you might call it.
We were at a busy intersection, part of a swarm waiting for a green light. Traffic was very heavy in both directions. He stood directly on the curb, almost leaning out in his impatience to cross. I slipped through the waiting crowd and stood just behind him, hemmed in on all sides. A taxi roared around the corner (travelling much too fast). I acted without thinking, totally on impulse. The very moment the taxi reached our corner, I stepped forward and administered a firm push to the small of my enemy’s back.
He grunted in surprise and pitched forward. Then all else was drowned out by the frantic squeal of brakes, a dull sickening thud, and the screams of passers-by.
In the confusion, I slipped out of the melee and walked away.
My mind was in turmoil at the shock of how quickly things had happened, but I forced myself to think calmly. He had his back to me; he never actually saw me since we left the train. No one else would be able to identify me - everyone is anonymous in the city. Most importantly I had no connection to him at all. We merely engaged in light conversation one morning on the train. I was safe.
Confident in my assessment I continued on to my office, arriving a bit late but once again in total control.
Next morning, I happily assumed my proper place on the train. It felt so good to be back where I belonged. I arranged my briefcase under my seat after removing my book and settled in for a comfortable journey.
I was not entirely surprised to see two police officers board the train. They moved amongst the passengers solemnly, pausing at each one to show them a picture and speak briefly in low tones, which did not carry. I assumed that the photograph must be of the "accident" victim, but it did seem like rather a lot of trouble to go to for one little pedestrian mishap.
I assumed an air of nonchalance, balanced with mild interest. Like the other passengers, I continued to study my novel, while at the same time casting curious glances at the police from beneath lowered eyelids.
Soon they stopped beside the Mouse. She nodded energetically at the picture and pointed towards me. I noticed that they talked with her much longer than with any of the other passengers.
My heart began to beat faster and my mouth grew dry. No need to worry, I reminded myself. No one saw me at the "accident" scene. No one would understand my motive.
Eventually it was my turn. The two officers stopped beside my chair.
"Excuse me, Ma'am."
I looked up, "Yes, officer, can I help you?"
The one who spoke was a young woman, crisp and efficient. Her dark hair was carefully secured into a neat French braid, not a hair out of place. Her partner was a man in his late 50s, teetering on the edge of retirement.
"Have you seen this man before?" the female officer held the photograph up.
I studied it carefully. No point in lying. I could almost feel the concentration of the people in the seats around us as they struggled to hear every word. "Yes, I think so. I think I’ve seen him on this train. But I can't be sure. One rarely notices anyone on the train."
I laughed lightly. I was pleased with my performance so far. "What has he done?" I knew from reading mystery novels that I should appear to be curious.
"He was killed yesterday. Pushed in front of a car."
I gasped slightly. "How horrible".
"Well, thank you for your time." She stepped away as if to move on, but the man was still looking at me.
"You ride this train often?" he said.
"Yes," I said, "almost everyday."
"Always sit in this particular car?"
"Always sit in this seat?"
"Always," I said firmly. I caught myself and added quickly, "Well, usually, I mean, that is sometimes, not always."
He nodded. I shifted in my seat. I didn't like the way he was looking at me.
"I take the GO Train every day," he said. "For more than 25 years I've been taking the same train, sitting in the same place every day. I have my own seat on the train."
(Published in Bloody Words: The Anthology, Baskerville Press, 2003)