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Many people just like me dream about the romance of trains and the joys of long-distance train journeys. Well, when you are sitting in the same seat after 24 hours staring glassy-eyed out the window at flat nothingness for hour after hour, the Indian Pacific can be anything but romantic. Monotonously steady movement makes you sleepy. Suddenly there is a slight grab, the airbrakes. The train glides to a complete stop.
” Why did we stop, did we hit something, do you know?” A woman in her thirties, sitting opposite to me, asked her partner who just shook his head and kept reading his newspaper.
She looked at me and I turned my gaze back to the window. Our sudden stop happened to be smack in the middle of Australia, in the middle of the longest straight stretch of rail in the world.
I tried to spot something interesting outside but I had not seen anything, in fact anything alive on this lunar landscape in five hours.The woman opposite looked worried and tried to open the window.
” The forecast is for 44C outside.” I smiled at her. ” It is good that the air-conditioning here never misses a beat”.
Perhaps because of the torpor of doing and seeing nothing for hours, looking out from my comfortable seat at this hostile environment I didn’t share her worries, I didn’t feel any sense of possible doom. But if somehow I was left behind out there…
Soon the train started to move slowly again through the middle of the Nullarbor Plain and we both signed with a relief.
” I am travelling from Perth to Sydney to visit my daughter,” I smiled again on the woman: ” My name is Beata.”
” Hi, Penny, nice to meet you, we are just…” She looked at her partner who kept reading his paper without paying any attention to us: ” travelling together.”
” A nice start of holiday,” I nodded: ” I always wanted to try this, I had some time to spare and don’t like flying, just this economy ‘sit-up’ class is…”
She stretched comfortably her slender figure across her seat: ” Not so bad.”
I tried to stretch my long legs under her seat: ” Not so bad if you are short.”
We both laughed. Her partner stood up and went outside without saying a word. She watched him to leave with a sad expression: ” Are you married?” She asked me suddenly.
I nodded surprised with her following question she shoot at me straight away: ” What would you do if your husband was unfaithful?”
” Infidelity is not a black and white issue.” I answered diplomatically thinking about my parents: ” Once the cheating is discovered, the decision whether to stay or go is rarely a clear cut or easy one, at least it shouldn’t be, in my opinion anyway.”
” I want to make everything all right but I am so angry you know after so many months of uncertainty I learnt the truth about my husband’s affair just a day before this trip we planned so long…” Her eyes filled with tears and I sat next to her and patted her arm.
Her husband entered the compartment putting his mobile back into his pocket: ” Did you call her, again, you promised not to do it?” Penny shouted at him from her seat and I quickly moved back to my seat and concentrated at the empty landscape outside.
” You behave silly,” he waved his hand and sat down to read his papers again but she took it from his hand and spatted at him.
” You scam, you cheater.”
He stood up and cleaning his face with a tissue left the compartment again.
The train stopped. I peered outside. A tiny railway station and associated buildings shimmered in a heat and dust. ‘ Tiny and historic town Cook has nothing in common with seafarers and is named after the sixth prime minister of Australia, Joseph Cook,’ there is the familiar ding-dong from the speakers and anouncement about our place of stop is delivered: ‘ Cook was established in 1917 firstly to service the railway construction workers, then as a part of Tea and Sugar Train suplying isolated communities between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta. At its peak Cook was a thriving community of 300 people now there are four people living here in splending isolation. You can visit their souvenir shop outside.. 1 hour stopover’
” It is time to explore,” I gently shook Penny who nodded solemnly and followed me throughout the carriage like a lamb for slaughter. When we stepped outside, the heat was overhelming but also our mighty long train looked impressive from outside.
“I have no saliva left and my nostrils are burning.” I complained.
” It is just too damn hot.” Penny finally woke up from her depressive mood and nudged me towards the station platform. It’s long, nondescript and locked up. And Penny’s husband was standing there as well. At least, it was shady.
” This is boring and uncomfortable,” he muttered under his nose: ” Your dream holiday is it?”
” It is adventure,” Penny suddenly sprang back to life: ” We are in some isolated ghost town in the middle of a remote and unforgiving land what is the name ?”
” Look a perfect house for you,” Penny’s husband pointed at a rusty corrugated iron structure resembling a large dunny except for the bars and bolts.
” Bastard,” I heard her hissing into his face but I turned around and started to walk towards the end of the platform. It is their marriage and not my problem, I thought.
There were some passangers licking icecream under a large shady tree. Penny caught up with me rattling with anger: ” He told me that life with me is routine and boring.”
” So leave him,” I bursted out exhausted and angry to be unvoluntarilly dragged into other people affairs.
” He will go back to Sarah, the other woman,” she spitted on dust in front of her feet: ” he said he felt renewed and virile with her, bastard.”
” So, get rid of him, it will be your gain and her loss.”
I noticed the entry into the tiny souvenir shop and without waiting for Penny’s reply I stepped inside. Two older local women were arranging stuffed koalas on a dusty bench with a bored look on their faces. One of them looked up: ” Coming for icecream?”
I quickly nodded and put few coins on the counter while the woman picked a slushy from a freezing box: ” Not too much choice here.”
” It’s fine, thanks.” I grabbed it and headed for the door. Penny was waiting there for me.
” Wants some?” I pointed at slushy. She shook her head.
” It is time to return to our carriage.” I pointed outside at people quickly boarding the long train.
She shook her head again. ” Thanks for everything.” She hugged me: ” I just asked to be handed my luggage here.”
I stopped in an open doorway shocked, but she had already joined the women picking up stuffed kangaroos from a box: ” Can I stay here to wait for a train back? She asked and continued: ” I have just left my husband after being together for eight years. Things weren’t good for a long time and I felt awful in myself from all of the ways he would put me down…”
” Good on you.” Women nodded and continued to unwrap kangaroos.
” It was hard for me to do it, but I finally got the courage to leave. I have a little daughter back in Perth…”
” Close the door, the heat is real, like a furnace it sears through, our airconditioning just broke down.” The woman nodded at me from a counter seeing me standing there without going in or out. I quickly left shutting door behind me.
The Indian Pacific clickity clacked over the Nullarbor . I am on my way again. But the seat opposite me is empty. Penny’s husband picked up his mobile again: ” Sarah, I am so excited…”
What have I done? I thought to myself thought I felt the warm embrace and I knew Penny’s face will remain with me for ages. Then she will disapear from my memory and will be replaced by other face – my Mum. Was she also changing a situation that was obviously toxic for her and my Father. It is easy to become acclimatised to a bad relationship and feel as though this is normal The cost of that, however can be your self-esteem. We can subconsiously feel as though we are not fully worthy of a respectful and loving relationship, so we don’t expect that to be present in our lives. How many of us are unconsciously do so. Was my Mum’s decision the right one ? She had allowed herself to find someone who treated her well.
I know that life can be really difficlult to cope with and make sense of a times. We can all experience moments of distress, or sadness or anger. This can have a devastating impact on our own lives, as well as those of our family, partner and children. We can sometimes feel very fragile in our ability to cope and change, but it is possible. Identifying issues honestly, taking responsibility, not lying blame, finding more effective solutions and maintaining goodwill towards ourselves and each other…that what my Mum should do next, this is what she she should do long time ago.