Boys on Trains

Saturday, 12 April 2014

We are on the train on the way home from the Melbourne March in March.  This would explain why several people in our carriage are wearing black t-shirts that unceremoniously proclaim in white lettering Fuck Abbott.

The train is approaching Southern Cross Station.  There is a woman with two children in the seats opposite us.  We know she has been marching in March as well because she is talking loudly to her children, aged somewhere in the vicinity of four and 10, about how marching is something to be proud of.  There is something about her that instantly makes me dislike her.  From out of nowhere I get the feeling - either sniffed from the field or else made up in my own judgmental head - that she is attention-seeking and try-hard and it makes me immediately cool towards her.  For all I know she could be horribly lonely and totally at the end of her tether and I am judging her on this whim that I so dislike when I see it in others.

The woman is wearing purple and white striped pants but even they don't endear me to her.  I get the feeling that she is talking to the rest of her carriage through her children.

"Why are we on this train?  How did we get here?" the little boy asks.  I ask myself the same sorts of questions, but I'm not sure if he is asking from an Albert Camus absurdity position or not.  He's about four, so anything goes when you're four and I wouldn't be too quick to discredit a four year old's ability to pick up on absurdity.  The difference is, when you're four you just roll with it.  The things that seem absurd when you're 30 have enough of a rut worn into them that the pit can more easily roll into cynicism.  It also continues on to freedom and some kind of Buddhist stance if you keep rolling in a particular direction, which is probably where the four year old rolls to in the first place, without the ruts.

"Why is that train going the other way?" the little boy asks, pointing to a train going the other way.

Anthony points to a new model V/Line diesel to our left  He says he has never been on one and that he wants to go on one.  I get strangely excited about this.  Which is weird I know, but I like taking little trips that have absolutely no requirement to them other than the trip itself.  I think Anthony does too.  Maybe that's why when I asked him the other day if he would care to travel the entire length of the Hurstbridge line with me - twice - he readily agreed.  We are, perhaps, a little strange.

The little boy points to the same streamlined purple-looking V/Line train that we are looking at and says, "Hey!  There's the same one we saw before!"

I suggest that Anthony should go and talk to the little boy about Hitachis and Siemens because he would probably have a captive audience.  I correctly identify the train we are on now as the model Extrapolis.  But I always get the Extrapolis right - it's the easiest model to identify because it has bendy concertina bits in-between the carriages.

The train is making that awful screeching and grating noise as it goes through the City Loop and the boy spills his takeaway coke into his mother's handbag.

The boy wants to know which station they're getting off at (Mitcham).

He wants to know can they go to Nana's when they get home (no).

He wants to know how we will get out of the tunnel (no response).

The boy has a lot of questions.  "Why are you so inquisitive?" my dad asked me in exasperation when I was young.  But my major question is, why are so many other people less inquisitive.  I'm with the boy, exhausting though it might be.

The boy's mother is now telling him something about how a man is getting on the train and that he shouldn't put his dirty sticky hands on the man's nice clean shirt.  She says he needs to have a shower or a bath when he gets home.  She says this loudly, as if it's for the train's benefit, as if this is a performance of Look What A Good Mother I Am.

"Can I have a bath now?" the boy asks.

There is a man sitting in the next row back from the woman and her children  who has an eyebrow ring.  I feel that it doesn't suit him.  There is something indefinable about the shape of his face that says that he does not look like the type of person who should have an eyebrow ring but that he should instead be someone who works in the office of a Kalgoorlie mine.  I have absolutely no idea why I think these stupid thoughts, but I am having a tired-but-wired CFS day where the extra noradrenaline runs stupid labelling thoughts through my speedy tired brain and shutting down the thoughts is extremely hard.

At these times I so wish I would stop thinking these pointless and stupid thoughts.  But actually, no.  I wish not so much that I would stop thinking them as that I would stop them catching on the brambles in my mind so that I stay with them.  Some thoughts are simply there to be dismissed.  Let them flow on through to the other side, wherever that may be.  The Department of Lost Thoughts.

Let anybody who wishes to have an eyebrow ring, no matter the configuration of their faces, have an eyebrow ring for God's sake.

"Why can't I have a bath on the train?" the boy asks to the air, while his Mum and brother both look at their smartphones.

The boy begins shouting as the coke takes full effect in his bloodstream.  His mother tells him that he had an opportunity to shout earlier at the march and he should have done it then, adding another stupid thing to say to her collection.  As if a four year old has any understanding of the conception of  Seizing The Right Time To Do Something In Case You Might Want To Do It Later.  I am beginning to think that maybe this woman has some kind of meth habit going on that is rotting her brain.  Which is another not very nice thing to think, isn't it?   Because really, as if a naughty four year old with relentless and ongoing questions wouldn't potentially cause brainmelt without any drugs needing to be involved whatsoever.

The train's automated voiceover lady very kindly announces the name of the station as we approach it.  The boy repeats the names after she says them - Hawton, Campbellfree, Surrey, Box Hill, Burnam.

The boy is getting cheekier now, getting him perilously close to the annoying status of his own mother.  He begins mouthing off, pinching his brother and his mother and generally behaving like a bit of a snot.  The boy's mother recites a litany of the damage he has done to her today:  He has kicked her, punched her and pinched her, and she's tired of it.  Why does he hurt her like that?  My annoyance parts and a tinge of sympathy rushes in.

The boy goes to throw a toy at his mother.  The weakness I have picked up on in her, he senses it too.  I can tell he senses it too.  All children sense this about adults and it increases with the amount of idle threats that are issued forth.  He decides against throwing the toy at his mum.  Perhaps what she just said to him has sunk in.

Or maybe not, because a minute later he spits on her.  Maybe that coke wasn't such a great idea after all.

"Mum, do you need to go to the toilet again?" he enquires.

The yukky burning rubber smell that besets train trips is wafting into the carriage.  "Yum, that smells like noodles," the boy says.  Taste and smell are funny things, aren't they?  They change not only from person to person from through the space of a life.

We have reached Mitcham Station and the boy, his mother and his brother get off.  

Anthony looks out the window, checking out the station's new configuration.  The train now runs underground, helping reduce traffic flow congestion along Mitcham Road, and the station has been largely rebuilt.  He looks like a little boy himself and I am drawn to gaze at his eyelashes as he stares out at the station's new digs.

Anthony wonders out loud if we are in the last carriage and then surmises that we must be, considering the three-carriage motor/trailer/motor configuration of the Extrapolis model of trains.  I have never once noticed the configuration of the Extrapolis, nor indeed any other model.

As we travel again he informs me, "I wanted to stick my finger up at that kid we just went past so that it would give him something to talk about." Anthony likes to rattle the mental cages of people who believe that 44 year old men should behave in certain ways. Sometimes he waves at people he doesn't know as we're driving past.  He likes to leave people curious.

The seats we are sitting on have a metal bit on the top of them that serves as a handle for people to hold onto in case the train lurches wildly around corners.  As we approach Upper Ferntree Gully, Anthony is shoving his fist through the hole in the handle in a rude thrusting gesture.  It is, he informs me, for the benefit of the security camera in the roof.  Just to shake things up a little.


  1. I enjoyed reading this, Sue.
    It felt very much like one of the 3-5 minute short films you sometimes see in between TV shows, usually on the ABC.

    I could could picture every scene you set - from the observers (you) POV.

    A little slice of humanity. Micro moments in time.

    1. That is a lovely and wonderful compliment to be likened to a filmmaker. Thank you, Vicki xo

  2. This about made my day. Excellent. Thank you.

    1. Really? Oh, well, that's very nice to hear! Writing it made my day but I never really imagine that reading it will make anybody else's. So thank you Emma :)

  3. I ride the train (well, light rail) to and from school twice a week, and it certainly is an adventure. I call it adventures in public transit. The other day, there was this guy (and I'm not nearly as descriptive as you are) who looked mighty disheveled. He proceeded to take a bag of miniature candy bars out of his bag, and began taping each of these tiny candy bars together with packing tape. When he had a string of 10-12, he would start a new one, until he had used all the candy bars in the bag. Then, he took a tiny razor blade out and proceeded to clean his fingernails with it.

    Strangest people.

    1. Haha! Cool! He sounds kind of endearing - although maybe it's easy for him to be endearing taping his candy bars when I'm far enough away for him not to be a threat (we do find anyone deviating slightly from the norm to be threatening, don't we? It's a rather annoying habit I think we've been roped into a little by the existence of the DSM I-IV :)

  4. In response to your story and Erin's account - "Strangest people".
    I too see a lot of odd characters, given that I attend so many markets in various locations. And, I always find myself humming, "People Are Strange" by The Doors. Every time :)

    1. I hum "People are Strange" by Echo and the Bunnymen, circa "The Lost Boys". :)

    2. Verrrry cool cover. Love those guys. Now I have that version AND The Killing Moon revolving around my head. But, couldn't think of better earworms to have :)

    3. Faces come out of the rain ... :)

    4. No one remembers your name...

  5. I was so straight in my teenage years musically that I remember Echo and the Bunnymen feeling a bit scary - like, just too edgy. Sheesh!

    Wow, okay, listening on YouTube now. NEVER would have picked it was them. The lead singer sounds different on this than singing, "Spare us the cutter!" and scaring me back into the safe suburban arms of Uncanny X-Men :)

    1. ..."feeling a bit scary". Kept that way by only listening to them.
      The scariness disappears when you looked at their videos. McCulloch was far from scary :)
      Best left up to the imagination.

      I find Brian Mannix and his mullet far more scary - OMG, especially these days, haha!

    2. "I find Brian Mannix and his mullet far more scary - OMG, especially these days, haha!" - HAHA, me too! :)

    3. I had a secret love affair with Echo's "Lips like Sugar". So weird.


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