It was 6:30 a.m. on a dark, December morning as I hurried to get dressed. The rented room was cold and my room-mate was still fast asleep. My new love, Chris, was returning home for the Christmas holidays, how I wished we could stay. For two years I had been with Dave, now my fiancé, but since he left to work three hundred miles away, the chains that had been binding me had fallen away. Chris had come to live in the house we shared with twelve other students and we felt a mutual attraction. We tried to ignore it, but with the tacit encouragement from others, we became a couple. Now I accompanied him to the railway station, rain beating down on the car windows. At the station he boarded his train and I stood alongside as if in some old-fashioned movie. He handed me a Christmas package and said, “Open it”. It was a small stuffed animal: a rat. Rattus! At twenty I was like a child again. We had nicknames for each other; we wrote silly notes and secretly left them in each other’s college mailbox. The next three weeks would be agony; our relationship was still a secret as I was engaged to another. I ran alongside the train as it rolled out of the station straining for the last moment that our fingertips could touch. I stood forlornly as the train clattered out of sight and sobbed, clutching Rattus to me, all the way back.
Three months later, on another rainy day, the moment had come to choose. I knew what decision to make but it was still difficult. I boarded the bus that would take me to the railway station. I gave the driver my fare and began to move towards my seat but he called me back to collect my forgotten change. I sat down and rested my head against the side window. As the bus moved away, clattering along the broken surface of the road my head rhythmically bumped against the glass. The rhythm echoed the message I had been inwardly hearing for the past three months - ‘you have to tell him it’s over’.
Reaching this day had been a long journey of soul-searching. The night before had sealed my decision. I sat at the restaurant table. It was my twenty-first birthday and I sat amongst my closest friends. It was apparently a happy occasion; everyone was laughing and cheerful. But one person at the table that night was no longer welcome in my life. I spent the whole evening wishing that Chris, my caring, loving, attentive, sweet new love was sitting there instead of him. It was no surprise to me to find the next day that Dave had forgotten the ugly parka jacket that was several sizes too small for him. He was useless unless I led him. Like when we had gone to a fancy party out of town, he turned up in jeans and running shoes and would have been denied entry, but for my friend’s winning smile to the bouncer. For two years I had covered for his odd behaviour. I sat by wordlessly as he railed my best friend for eating tuna that was not “dolphin friendly” or apples from South Africa. My friend, never wanting to offend anyone, would smile sweetly and discard the offending foods. I was becoming like his mother, but unlike her, I was allowing him to be obnoxious. I was becoming old. It was settled. I would return the coat the next day even though it meant a bus ride plus a two hour train journey. This was my chance to determine my future.
The journey to London passed in a blur. There was a rail workers’ strike and the schedules were in chaos. I would not be deterred. I arrived at Paddington station and he was there to greet me. There was no thrill at the sight of him. All I saw was tedium. How I could get this over with as painlessly as possible? How could I feign love all day and then drop the bombshell before I left? I told him then and there, at the railway station. I have no memory of the words I used. I merely felt numb. Afterwards we walked in Hyde Park for an hour. We walked side by side as before but now there was an invisible wall between us. We were two individuals; no longer joined by the ring I still wore. Neither of us had any appetite to eat so we continued walking aimlessly until my train was due.
At the station the question remained unasked upon my lips. He answered it anyway saying, “Keep the ring, I don’t want it”. I didn’t want it either but it would be too much to thrust it at him now. Instead I boarded my train and moved to my seat. A discarded newspaper had been left on the table so I picked it up and mindlessly flicked through the pages, barely even seeing what was written through the blur of my tears. A man’s voice brought me back to reality when he politely pointed out that it was his paper and had not been discarded after all. Normally this would have made me curl up with embarrassment but today I just didn’t care. I rested my head against the window and watched the rain fall. English weather is so suited to lovers’ parting.
The smell of the train’s brake fluid permeated the air mixing with the musty smell of the upholstered seats. I moved to the corridor, seeking fresh air. The smell of brake fluid faded to be replaced by the grimy, wet smell of the warehouses we were passing. It was a dismal scene. I paused there for several minutes before I returned to my seat. I sat down pulling the diamond ring from my finger, eyes blurring with tears once again. I looked up and caught the eye of the “newspaper man”; he smiled sympathetically but hurriedly averted his eyes back to his paper. The British are not known for intruding on a stranger’s pain. I smiled back weakly, thankful for his reserve. We both turned to look out of the misted windows once more.
The journey continued in silence as I contemplated my actions. Despite my sadness at casting off my boyfriend of two years I was glad I had finally faced up to the decision. When I got home I made small talk with my parents, a sure sign to them that I had something to say. My parents knew me well enough to wait for the news that would inevitably follow. They have never been ones to be openly emotional but I knew they would always support my choice. They were matter-of-fact, not even asking if there was someone else. My mother’s words have stayed with me even to this day. She said, “Don’t you feel a tingle when you see him anymore?” My answer was definite. “No”.
Two years later after many platform goodbyes, I reached up to kiss Chris. As the train began to pull away and I ran alongside, he called out, “I suppose we ought to get married then”. We did. Twenty years later we are still together. Rattus still sits in pride of place in our bedroom, a little worn but still cherished. My life decisions seem intrinsically linked to railway stations.