Monday - 4:56am to the City

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It was early, the sun had only barely crept above the horizon and the usually hot November air still had a chill lingering at the edges, although that would not last much longer. Dalton tramped steadily around the bend in the road approaching the train station, his Styrofoam lunchbox swinging loosely from his hand, hitting him in the knee on every second swing, and his safety orange shirt the only spot of brightness in the otherwise overcast morning. Dalton liked his job, he enjoyed being outdoors all day, even in the variety of harsh summer sun that only Queensland seemed able to produce. He enjoyed working with his hands, building things that were sturdy and functional, and for the most part he got along well with his workmates. In fact, the only thing he didn't like about his job was the early starts. He had always been a late riser, even while he was still in nappies, and despite over fifteen years of working in the building industry, he had never been able to train his body to rise in the darkness. He had resigned himself to it, and the early finishes went some way to repairing the damage, but he looked forward to a day when he could sleep in every day, for as long as he wanted. Dalton - known as Tony to his mates - was 33, and counting down the days until he could retire and get some hard-earned rest.

The train station gradually hove into view around the bend and Dalton, with nothing better to study as he walked, stared lazily across at the opposite platform. As was normal just before the 4:56 into the city, there appeared to be no one in sight. The ticket booth wouldn't open for another hour and a half yet, and the commuters didn't arrive in earnest until after seven normally. Dalton felt a brief stab of jealousy - the joy of being able to get up at half-past six and meander slowly down to the station for the 7:44! This passed quickly, as he realised that these commuters may have great working hours, but they had to sit behind a desk and push paper and red tape all day for the privilege. Comforted slightly, he reached the staircase that led over the train line, and started to climb.

As Dalton climbed the stairs, a sudden movement at the far end of the platform caught his eye and he whipped his head around to investigate. Unaccustomed to having company on his early forays to the station, his heart leaped into his mouth when he spotted a dark, hunched over creature shuffling towards the farthest bench on the outward bound platform. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be an elderly gent with a hat and a mostly empty-looking black plastic garbage bag. Dalton gave himself a sharp mental rebuke for getting startled over a homeless man, but continued to survey the platform to put his mind at ease. He could see the general detritus left over from a weekend typically full of teenagers with nothing better to do - some empty beer and spirits bottles thrown around and some fresh graffiti on the walls of the shelter. Otherwise, nothing appeared out of the ordinary except for a bundle of what appeared to be old clothes, or maybe a blanket, just outside the fence line, where the station ended and the long paspalum grass delimited the edge of the public car park. The old man had trundled to his seat from that direction, and Dalton assumed it was where he had spent the night. As if hearing Dalton's thoughts, the old man suddenly looked up and stared back at him. Dalton averted his eyes out of shame and pity, and continued over to the other platform.

Dalton purchased a weekly ticket from the vending machine kindly provided by City Rail and thankfully working for a change, and found a place to sit at the far end of the platform, as far from the homeless man as he could. Trying to be casual, he laid back on the uncomfortable seat and pondered why anyone - homeless or otherwise - would choose to try and sleep on one. They appeared designed specifically to discourage people from spending any time on them. He could understand why the old man would sleep on a blanket in the grass instead. Dalton checked his watch - only 3 minutes to spare - half closed his eyes, and waited for his train, enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun on his upturned face.


Walter didn't normally come out to the station on a Monday. He liked to come out on Sundays, mostly because there were less people around, and he could just watch the trains without having anyone call the police. Walter had lived on the railway line since he was born and had wanted to be a train driver for as long as he could remember. When he was 14 he took on odd jobs at the railway station near his house and, joy of joys, had finally become a driver at 26. He offered forty-five years of loyal service to City Railways as a driver, and was eventually forced into retirement against his wishes. Then two years ago, when his wife fell into a diabetic coma that she never woke up from, Walter had begun spending more and more time at the station, watching and photographing the trains that had formed such a large part of his life. Now, at 73, Walter had become a more or less permanent fixture at Redton station, although he came at irregular enough times and faded into the background enough that the commuter population rarely saw him, although he was well known to the station staff. The older staffers knew Walter from his days as a driver, and one guy regularly sat down and reminisced, although Walter suspected it was more out of pity than friendship. The younger, newer ones rarely spoke to him at all, although they appeared to recognise him and left him to his train spotting without interfering. The grand majority of Walter's problems came from the general public, since that horrible business in America a few years ago people saw an old man loitering around public transport and taking photographs they assumed they were going to fall victim to the next terrorist attack. As a result, Walter had also become reasonably well known to the local police officers, who still occasionally came out to check things over, but mostly just reassured the hysterical public citizen over the phone that Yes, Ma'am, they knew who he was, and they also knew that he was totally, utterly harmless.

Yesterday morning Walter had fully woken from his usually disturbed sleep at 3am, intending to head down to the station while it was still nice and quiet, and watch the sun rise over the train line. When he had gone to swing his legs over the edge of the bed, sharp-edged pain had gripped his right hip and with a cry he had fallen back to bed. After some time of repositioning his worn body, he gingerly managed to get out bed and stumble to the bathroom to find some pain killers. He swallowed a few of the stronger variety, then shuffled back to bed, allowing the drugs to take over. By the time the analgesics had taken their blessed, longed-for effect and Walter felt well enough to rise again, it was almost lunch time. By painful experience, Walter knew that all those who had been shopping in the city on their day off would be returning throughout the afternoon, and there would be no helpful staff member to calm any panicked member of the public. He chose to spend the rest of the day not looking at the real ones, but watching the miniature variety in his lounge room instead. They were a poor substitute, but would serve to while away an otherwise lonely and boring afternoon.

So it happened that Walter was at the station on Monday morning not long after dawn, which today had broken just after half past four. His right hip still ached, and the short walk from his bedsit up the road to the station was painful, but he knew it would be worthwhile once he got there. He clutched a black plastic garbage bag in his right fist which contained his camera, a notebook, and his reference book – “Australian Trains Past and Present: A Pictorial History”. He clamped his fingers tighter around the top of the bag with every bolt of pain from his hip, willing himself to just take another step, take another step, keep walking, don't fall.

With the pain in his hip now extending across his back and down his right leg, and his vision starting to grey at the edges, Walter finally stepped into the railway car park, preparing to take the few steps through the long grass then slip through the break in the fence to the end of the platform. Focused as he was on the pain in his side and back, and the simple act of just making it to the bench on the station, and compounded by the overcast morning, he didn't see the bundle hidden in the grass until he stepped on the hem of the blanket covering it. At first he just thought it was just a bunch of old clothes, left behind by the hoodlums who had no doubt been around the station over the weekend. But then he realised that, for a bunch of old clothes, it was surprisingly person-shaped. Not wanting to touch it, but curiosity getting the better of him, he shifted his weight carefully to the left side, and used his right foot to give the bundle a gentle nudge. His bad hip gave an almost audible shriek of protest and he pulled his foot away before managing to move the blanket at all. Suddenly, his long-gone wife spoke up in his ear, saying Leave well enough alone, Walt. See no evil, remember? With the sudden realisation that he might be meddling in something that he certainly did not belong in, he turned away, and fell into a stumbling half run up to the platform.

Visibly shaking, and with the pain in his hip now all but forgotten, Walter staggered up the incline through the waist high paspalum grass, scrambled up onto the concrete of the platform, and fell onto the bench. He leaned forward, putting his head between his knees, and counted haltingly to ten, then twenty. With his heart rate only slightly lowered, an ache in his chest and burning fire throughout his entire lower body, he raised his head slowly and saw a man in a bright orange shirt watching him from the pedestrian overpass. Walter opened his mouth to speak, to bring this stranger into his confidence and share the burden of what Walter could only assume was a horrid, grisly discovery, and found that he couldn't form the words. What could he possibly say, that would not make this man turn tail and run? Defeated by his own inability to form the sentence that would make this man trust him, Walter slowly lowered his head again. This time he counted to one hundred.


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