The Axeman

Friday, 5 March 2010

The train comes to a stop in the middle of the tracks.  Stopped between stations, the train driver's disembodied voice appears over our heads.

There is an "incident" at Sunshine Station.  The train will proceed to West Footscray, where we will have to make our own arrangements from there.

I have a headache.  I have been unwell all week.  Today was my last day at work which nobody remembered and so, feeling unwell, I slunk through the day without my usual bonhomie, and without the (yes, expected) farewell speech and gift that the preceding people leaving over the past weeks have all been afforded.

I was dreading that, really.  And looking forward to it, too.  Who doesn't want a present, right?  But getting up and standing before people and having to give a speech about a workplace that sucks and that I am not sad to leave - full of people who I do not get to talk to because we are battery hens, typing stuff, under deadlines - I rehearsed what I would say a few times, just in case I found myself with nothing to say at all.  Some days I am outgoing and expansive but today is not one of them.  I slink through.

Even worse is not getting to stand up and say goodbye at all. I watched each person leave, waving goodbye, not telling them it was my last day.  I just couldn't rouse myself to go through the rigmarole.

The driver informs us of our West Footscray destination, which is one stop before my usual stop, Tottenham.  Everyone sighs and everyone picks up their phones and it can't be proven except in Swedish findings that nobody wants to read but I swear I can feel all those waves zooming through my body, frazzling my senses.

The man in the doorway of the train is with his workmate, a woman.  He is on the phone.  They are going to his house for dinner.  Their cars are parked at Albion Station.  They are going to get a bus from West Footscray Station to Sunshine.  Could she pick them up there?  Yes, he loves her too.  Etcetera.  I really don't give a fuck about this man's logistics but I have no choice.

There are about five different conversations going on within my earshot and none of them are with other people in the carriage.

The train driver's voice comes over our heads again.  It says the incident at Sunshine Station is someone with an axe.  The commuters gasp and out come the phones again.

"Cool," I said to the man in front of me but I don't think he appreciates my sense of humour.  Or else he doesn't understand what I am saying.  Or he doesn't care.  One way or the other.

We sit on the tracks for a few minutes. There is a palpable sense of rising fear levels in the air about someone who is several suburbs away with cops bearing down on him as we speak.  I hope we do not have any major catastrophe any time soon in this city.  We're not ready for it.

The people are all on their phones again rejigging plans.  Worrying.  Worrying.  The kids with malaria continue with malaria but we've got our own stresses here, thanks very much.  Sometimes it's all we can do to get home without having a nervous breakdown.  We do not like our plans to be thwarted.  The train will not arrive at the station in time and we may very well turn to pumpkins, or spontaneously combust if they don't.  We like our train timetables, we like to get home at the same time, we like it because it is something that we can hang onto.

"Let's hope they have a straightjacket at the station," the stupid man booms at his workmate two paces away.  "Go and put him in the loony bin."

That's the idea, Jack.  Slice it nicely down the middle, and you get to reinforce your flagging security by reminding yourself that today, you have not fallen off the edge of the plank and gone careening down to Sunshine Station with an axe.  Today you, law abiding citizen that you are, are trying to get home, a fine upstanding citizen.

The driver's voice comes over for his triumvirate of disembodied messages.  The "incident" has been cleared up.  We are free to proceed.

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, impending mass disaster averted.  The phones come out again, rejigging rejigged plans.  It's been a long five minutes.


  1. Another slice of life, flavoured with the human condition and lovingly prepared and cooked.

    Thanks, Sue. Another little gem:)

    PS Was this really your last day, or is it 'just' a story?

  2. It really was, Harry! And I hate to admit how sad I felt that no one honoured my passing!!! The production supervisor felt awful when she realised it was my last day and they hadn't done anything to see me out.

    Well, it's my last day in the office, anyway. I am actually beginning working from home for the same company next week :)

  3. Oh chickie...I can so know how you feel about leaving work and no one notices, and I'm sorry. It is like being invisible. And I get why you didn't bother to tell anyone too. Sigh. But I do hope you enjoy working alone, just be sure to conjure up something to break up the solitude from time to time.

    Anyhow, beautiful capture of your experiences in this post. You have such a way with words, you paint pictures.

  4. what a dramatic last day in the commuting huddle
    how absolutely awesomely exciting that you no longer have to deal with the the unappreciative people you shared an office with, or the sardine tin trek in and out of the city each day - yet still get to earn a living :)

    green is the colour of me

  5. Erin - see, I do have a bit of introvert in me, right? :) Yes, the solitude must be busted open with friend and family visits, definitely!

    Kel - it is awesomely exciting, and I feel very happy to be able to do it. May something the same flow your way!

  6. I hope they all show up at work on Monday wonder where you are, realize what insensitive blobs they are and feel like shit all day for forgetting! And I hope you wake up Monday and say "I like working from home because I get to be with one of the coolest people on the planet, me".

    Great story of the train ride. People are so jacked up (phone people not axe guy). The axe guy was probably a disgruntled phone person.

  7. Barbara - it's Layla! I had to check which one of you Barbaras it was :)

    You know, the fault really lies with the office manager, who obviously hasn't noted down my resignation day even though I've told her twice and given her a letter. She's new, and I think she's a bit overwhelmed, but it's still her fault.

    LOL yeah, the axe guy had probably just caught too much public transport! :)

  8. Now you are working from home "yay!!" Can you please jump on the train every now and again, just so we can be treated to your train episodes..I love them!
    as for your office manager....its obvious she doesnt deserve you in her office!! :)

  9. Andi - sure!! Although it'll be a bit of a different beast, as it'll be commutes on the Belgrave line to the footy :)

  10. This is the other (barefoot) Barbara and I just want to say you have the most colourful public transportation in Oz! You make it all come alive for us. All the best in your new form of work.

  11. Sue going to work is going to be awesome. No jackasses to deal with on public transit. Damn there goes your best thread. But hey your cuss-o-meter index might go down. Hey sorry to hear that your exit from cubicle life was a bit of a bummer, I hope that working from home goes well for you.

  12. Sorry Sue, that last comment was from your friend Zinger. For whatever the reason I can only post anonymously. Cheers Jon

  13. Having been a commuter for so many years, this post is right on the nose!.....although, cell phones were just becoming EVERY SINGLE PERSON'S RIGHT to SHARE THEIR INTIMATE NEWS with every nearby stranger when I was just finishing up those commuting years - I can only imagine how insane it must be now!!!! This is a true slice of reality.

    And the leaving without a goodbye - that kinda sucks although I did manage to avoid a dinner celebration one time when leaving a job - it was to be a "how much we love you and you love us" - NOT REALLY sort of celebration, so sometimes just leaving is a rather nice exit plan. Whichever it really was for you, I hope you're o.k. with it!

    THanks for making me smile and nod yes a lot:)


  14. I'm late commenting, sorry.
    This is a beautiful set of observations you've given us here, and your writing is going from strength to strength.
    But I can't bear it that no-one said goodbye or allowed you to say goodbye at work. Bastards.


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