CityRail trains bother me. It seems that all the ones I use are the ones that smell like a strange mixture of hangover, toilet, pot and bleach. The walls are covered in graffiti written by those who didn’t want to forget their nights spent stumbling around the carriage, and those who didn’t want others to forget them. They make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I think I am only uncomfortable because these trains force me to confront a side of the world that I often choose to ignore. Perhaps it is that I don’t know how to react to my surroundings. Perhaps, I am afraid of reality and prefer the security of my personal bubble.
A woman cries. She is sitting in the corner right by the stairway, in the single seat, her legs pulled up to her chest and her ear pressed to a phone. She listens and she sobs. I stare out the window uncomfortably, trying to decipher what the scrawling on it says. Anything but to look at her. Anything at all.
“I just want to see my baby.” The woman chokes out, taking a deep breath to follow it. “I miss being woken up at two in the morning to change his nappy.” She sighs, sniffles and wipes away a few tears that have reached her chin. “I’d do anything to have those sleepless nights back.”
I am uncomfortable.
Her pain makes me uncomfortable.
What sort of person am I that someone’s tears make me shy away and not reach out?
There’s something wrong with me.
The woman hangs up the phone and slips headphones on, closing her eyes. I can see a few tears spill over occasionally and my urge to hide has disappeared now. But there is nothing I can think to do. I want to help her. I want to tell her it will all be okay. I cannot tell her that, though. She is in her world, and I am safe in mine. But aren’t we both here? We are sitting together in this train that reeks of brokenness. We are not individuals living in separate universes.
The smell is what distracts me. Bleach is fresh in here, and presumably, that was used in an attempt to cover up the much more potent aroma of pot, alcohol and pee. The floor is sticky with the substances. The air is thick with it. The bleach does not cover it up, it just adds to it… like a squirt of perfume covering up the stench of a homeless man who has not showered for weeks. Noble attempt, CityRail, but it did not work.
Can I tip bleach on this woman’s life? Can I wipe the slate clean for her? I cannot. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I will not try, it seems. But while I can’t remove the pain altogether, I can try, can’t I? I should try. I am meant to be a lover. I am meant to be a light in this broken world. But what am I? I am a spectator.
I will take in the smell, and I will cringe at the tears, but I will not do anything about it. That is not right. The idea of bleach to cover up years of abuse that occurred in this train is ridiculous. But I, I have been washed clean and can offer this to other people only by the grace of God and yet I keep it hidden.
And off that train I got, walking away from her, leaving her to her tears as I walked home to relax in front of the TV and put deodorant on to cover up the smell of the train that her permeated my clothing.
Next time, though, I want to be the one to reach out a hand and as she curls up and cries, before she slips the headphones on to try and escape, I want to sit across from her and ask a simple question. “Do you need someone to talk to?”
CityRail trains bother me. I am intimidated by the stench of brokenness covered up weakly by bleach. Pain bothers me. I do not know how to heal it. But I will reach out. What else can I do? I cannot ignore it. I will not ignore it.
A woman curls up and cries on a train.
Ask her, “Do you need someone to talk to?”
Maybe… we can change the world…