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All Stations to London Euston

After a week of full-English breakfast debauchery at the Hampton Hilton in Birmingham I return home to my beautiful family. They all seem so normal- compared to what, I don’t know. I walk indoors thankful for my spacious kitchen- staying in a hotel room for a week will do that to you.

The sun showed up as soon as I stepped into the taxi, almost as though the city was glad to see me leave. Hadn’t it rained non stop for the entire 4.5 days I’d been there? Even last night when I went searching for Afro-Caribbean food, I stood outside in the rain for 15 minutes, OK maybe 10. Still that was 20 minutes after they were to have opened. Another man came and stood next to me and asked if that was the Caribbean restaurant. I wanted to draw him into the heated discussion I was having with myself, about the state of affairs in our community and how were we supposed to get ahead if we didn’t even stick to our own opening times. But I couldn’t tell if he was Black or Asian. So I hushed up.

I chat with Ahmed, the cab driver. No he doesn’t tell me his name but he looks like an Ahmed. I double-check with him about Birmingham’s ‘city centre’. I don’t hide the incredulity  that laces my question; ‘Is the city centre by the station really the city centre of Birmingham?’ A part of me wants him to say yes, so that I can have one more thing to be thankful for, that I don’t live there. The other part hopes for his own sake that there’s a real centre, I just didn’t see it during my stay. As if he can read my thoughts he says ‘I don’t live in Birmingham , I live in Dudley. And yes, this is the city centre’. He explains to me that the city is fraught with a network of canals. At the mention of the word ‘canals’ I drift off to Venice where my head becomes filled with a network of idyllic images of passionate love and romance. It occurs to me that if I were to be asked about the size of my city centre, for example,  I would not be able to descend into its history or topography. I think that’s a bit sad and needs to be rectified. Oh to come from a beautiful city that has a network of canals, like Venice! Or Birmingham.

He tries to tell me my fare is £6, when I know fully well that it’s £5. I don’t prepare to argue. I simply tell him its £5. He mumbles an apologetic explanation as to how he forgot that ‘customers like you get a discount’. A feeble attempt to erase the brief shame you feel when you’re caught doing something infantile and silly- not silly enough to be told off, yet the silliness is what embarrasses you and not the being caught or the telling-off.

There is an immaculately dressed, older woman making her way quickly towards the station entrance, she tries to force me to confirm that she is scurrying in the right direction of the entrance, I nod with little certainty. It would appear the architects of Birmingham New Street Station made a grave error; it never occurred to them to put the entrance closer to her, knowing this day would come. I say a silent prayer of thanks because for once in my life and in what might actually be the first time, I’m not rushing. I have a whole 45 mins before my train departs. It is with this newfound calm and dignity I go to pick up my tickets- prepaid, I might add. I meet the older lady there, snapping at the ticket machine; ”it’s no point, I’ve probably missed my train, this is so ridiculous’‘. Her tone doesn’t go with her appearance, funny how the external can mask what’s going on inside. I realise I have been on the receiving end of a casual observer  many a time. I decide I prefer to be the observer and not the observed.

I sit in a waiting area and chat with my friend on the phone. A woman comes in with her guide dog, a beautiful cuddly, friendly thing. She snaps at her friend ‘sit down, please’, ‘please‘ is uttered with more force than ‘sit‘ and ‘down‘ and the dog quietly obeys. I think this must have been how Adam told off the animals in Eden. Soon my platform is announced, I make my way there where I am gifted once again with a feeling of superiority as I arrive on the platform to wait for my train. Usually trains wait for me, then change their minds as I arrive at the door huffing and puffing.

This one is a slow train, the type that makes up stations as it goes along just so it can stop at them. Our first stop is Stetchworth. Yes. And people clearly live there for a few passengers get on the train. Even more surprising, some people alight. A woman comes in with her 2 gorgeous little daughters. They look about the ages of 4 and 2, the kids look Nigerian but their mum looks err.. not Nigerian but she can pass for one. One daughter seats opposite me and the other stays on the other side of the aisle with her mum. Before long they’re skipping and whizzing around, and starting to irritate passengers. My eyes unintentionally lock with another passenger’s and she gives the polite British smile that says ”control your kids”. I smile back hoping my smile conveys to her; ”they’re not mine”.

The train stops at Rugby. It is standing room only and ‘my daughter’ is seating on her mother’s lap. A friendly passenger settles into the now vacant seat opposite me. Before long she is speaking French to the girls, ooh-la-la-ing with them, It’s a rare and beautiful sight. A complete stranger choosing to converse with 2 little girls. In French. The same girls that a few minutes prior I didn’t want mistaken as mine. The older girl smiles broadly and asks, ‘you speak French?’ Suddenly I feel jealousy creeping up . I want to be associated with these girls who speak French. I want to speak French too. I wonder if I can conjure up a reverse smile that does the opposite of denying them. I try to find the woman I need to offer this smile to, she’s gone. La zut! Ce qui est très triste!!!

Thank you for reading!

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