All Stories, General Fiction, Short Fiction

The Familiar Journey by Bethan Dee

The voices of the three funny men occupy my headphones, and I rub my new, hastily bought gloves together. On a Friday afternoon, in early December, the central train station is naturally pulsating with luggage-burdened passengers. Their conversations are upbeat, their postures eager. I find it a nice change of pace; seeing faces that aren’t marred by frustrated creases. The train times are so far unaffected, and for the time being, civility reigns supreme. We’re all going home. And it is such a wonderful feeling.

I actually enjoy this fortnightly trip. I enjoy navigating my way through the labyrinth of bridges, and sleepy cafés. I enjoy being accompanied by the same ridiculous conversations, playing over, and over again in my back pocket. I enjoy the semblance of being in charge, feeling like I am the one en route. I find comfort in it. And it makes me feel comfortable.

I sense the familiar rumble of the incoming train, its vibrations coursing throughout the platform, and under our feet. We turn our heads synonymously and watch as the boring machine pulls into the station. With a reserved ticket in hand, I immerse myself within the boarding masses. Barrelling along the train’s innards, I see a sad pair of eyes look up at mine, as I approach seat forty-seven. I understand the man’s plight and have been in his position many times before. But for the next hour and a half, this seat belonged to me. Why? Because the ticket says so.

The awkward exchange happens, and it takes me an hour to forget about it. I clutch my valueless travel bag for the whole journey, and compel my muscles to stay still, lest I cause any inconvenience to the occupier of seat forty-eight. The sign for Bristol Parkway is my cue to get up and reduce my frame, squeezing myself down the cramped aisle, and successfully avoiding any and all eye contact. Once departed, I navigate my way to platform two, still in the company of the three funny men, and seek refuge in the cold, metal waiting room. This is the halfway point, and my reward is too much time to reflect, and too many travellers to observe. Some are old, and some are young. Some are texting, and some are pretending. But all of us are as silent as could be. The sun is nowhere to be seen, and we surrender to the kind of lonely, melancholic feeling associated with a crisp, quiet night like this.

I stand outside to avoid the silence, and listen to the Friday night buzz, emanating from the city. I should be out there, I think to myself. Having as much of a good time as I can afford. This kind of feeling wasn’t printed in the brochures or uttered on the open days. Washing my dishes in the bathroom sink and holding a glass to the door. That is not the way I thought it would be.

My heart jumps at the sight of the Welsh train, glowing in an orange warmth. It’s pleasantly empty, and there is no need for me to deprive another poor soul of their seat. I place my bag next to me, and with no guilt attached, I settle down into the lovely, musty seat. I watch my unchanged reflection in the window, and we move on to pick up the eager Newport, and Cardiff passengers. They’re rowdy, and loud, but I don’t mind. It’s the same, so I like it. Just as I like the small spatters of rain painting the window. Just as I like the same conversation repeated in my head. Just as I like this exact time of night, at this exact time of year. The sleepy rumble of the train is so comforting to me.

And it makes me feel comfortable.

Bethan Dee

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3 thoughts on “The Familiar Journey by Bethan Dee”

  1. Very nice. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here, but, to me, there’s a strong sense of loneliness that comes through even though the main character claims to be comfortable. I think the subtlety and ambiguity is effective.


  2. I commute by ferry two hours a day (standing in line to board right now, after posting this gonna feign texting as to avoid a nutburger). This neat little train story in Wales could be right in Seattle right now. But instead of three funny guys in my head, I have a nutburger dead ahead just begging for the pepper spray.


  3. Hi Bethan,
    I remember leaving a job that I had done for twelve years. It was boring me and dragging me down to despair. But when I finally found something else, I realised that I was missing the familiarity. And that was the very thing that had been effecting me.
    Comfort blankets aren’t always good for you.
    Your story brought all those thoughts to me.


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