Have you ever talked to a stranger on a train? No, not the drunk individual who makes no sense but the person next to you. Here’s a short story of my afternoon.
Whilst rounding off the commuting part of the week I trudged wearily onto the typically fragrant Virgin Voyager to make my way back to Wolverhampton. It doesn’t take a furtive imagination to picture the scene: warm bodies crammed into the small space and only a few spare seats remaining. I spotted mine and the person occupying the neighbouring seat had spread a couple of bags and coat on it (some of you will at this point recall Ben Elton’s take on these matters). Now these moments can always be tense: you want the seat, you can tell the other occupant is reluctant to relinquish the double seat and an almost grudging acceptance by both parties that a silent compromise is the best way forward. So it was today that I asked for the seat, the occupant looked up, offered the one she was in and requested the aisle seat. After sitting, she enquired if the train was heading out of the station the way we were sat facing and to her obvious disappointment it wasn’t. I suggested that there is often space in the quiet carriage and offered to save the seat whilst she took a look (and yes I confess this was partly a selfish though in getting a double seat for my one stop journey. Alas the train was full and, atypically for these sardine can trains you might think, the door wouldn’t open. “Here we go” I did think at the time.
But this wasn’t the usual grudging cohabitation of confined rail space. A brief observation by my neighbour about how busy it was led to, initially, a few comments, and by the time we approached Wolverhampton a conversation I really was in danger of missing my stop for. How two people who’s lives cross briefly can share so many small commonalities is one of life’s little wonders and a pleasure we rarely acknowledge in our rushed, closeted, atomised lives. Yet here we were, two strangers talking about life, where we were in the grand scheme of things and learning to live it to the full. In particular, our conversation turned to the topic of mental health – she is about to retrain as a counsellor, I told her about my recent health issues and we were able to share with enthusiasm some form of common past and experience. So despite the delay to the train I left that particular journey feeling happy and feeling like I’d lived a little more than I otherwise would. It was a useful reminder of the pleasant things life can offer if we are prepared to see and accept them.