The Stranger On The Train

Photo by Alec Douglas on Unsplash

You’re on a train when someone sits across from you and begins to cry.


It took a while to get settled. Mary’s carer, Annie, helped her onto the train and wheeled her to a seat, made sure she was comfortable, then Annie put the bags away and set up Mary’s lunch on the table. She tucked a towel into Mary’s shirt and placed another one on her lap. After handing her a knife and fork, she excused herself to go to the bathroom, and let Mary know that she’d be right back.

Mary took a deep breath. She was exhausted and hated traveling. She looked down at her sausage and veggies which were separated into compartments, color-coded, just the way she liked them. Fixing her glasses, and brushing her air blown fringe from her face, she looked up and noticed an elderly lady sitting opposite her. She gave the woman a friendly smile bit only received a half-smile back. Mary frowned and took a bite of her food. When she glanced back at the woman, Mary noticed that she looked deeply troubled. Peering at her face, she could see that the woman’s eyes were red and her mouth slightly open like, she was short of breath. She looked sad.

The expression on the woman’s face troubled Mary, and she wondered if the she was really okay: was she sick, troubled, or in danger, perhaps? She looked spent, like she’d run a marathon, but she was too old for that. Mary craned her neck, looking around for her carer who hadn’t come back yet, when she met eyes with the stranger. She waved but received no reply. A moment later, the stranger began to cry.

“A-are you okay?” Mary asked quietly, looking around to see if anyone else had noticed the outburst. The stranger nodded, wiping her eyes with tissue, which she then hid in her sleeve. She fixed her glasses, looked up at Mary, and gave her a proper smile. This effort to compose herself, however, did not have the desired result and the woman began to cry again.

Before Mary could ask enquire once more about the her well-being, the woman spoke.

“She’s gone …” the tears started to flow. “Its been a few years since she left, but it feels like just yesterday.” Mary didn’t say a word, she didn’t know how to respond. She looked for her carer once again, who wasn’t in sight. The woman’s tissue wasn’t doing justice for the amount of tears that were now flowing, soMary offered her a clean one but she declined.

After a deep breath, the woman continued. “She was full of life, you know. She was a strong, independent woman, who did what she wanted regardless of what people thought about her. But… she’s gone now.”

Mary was saddened to hear these words, though she wasn’t surprised; the stranger looked like she had lost someone special.

“She travelled a lot too —she saw most of the word, you know. She went mostly on cargo ships and New Zealand was her favorite place of all.” Mary felt great pity for the woman, and wondered when Annie would be back. She would know how to handle this; how to comfort the woman.

“Where are you off to?” Mary asked the stranger, thinking it might inspire more cheerful conversation.

“I’m going to try find her,” the woman replied.

Mary’s eyes widened. “Do you think you’ll find her?” she asked.

“No.” A final tear made its way down her cheek, and without another word, the woman left.

Mary thought to call out after her, but at that moment Annie returned and Mary breathed a sigh of relief. She told Annie all about the stranger, to which Annie apologized several times for not being around for the encounter.

There was a long journey ahead, they were on the evening train from France. Mary was fast asleep when, across the aisle, a young man began motioning to Annie, trying to get her attention.

When Annie finally noticed his movements, he leaned over and whispered, “She was talking to herself earlier. She was looking at her reflection in the window.” Annie smiled and nodded, “Yeah, it’s not the first time.”

“I hope you don’t find me too nosey, but did she lose her daughter?” he asked.

“No, she doesn’t have any children,” Annie replied.

“I see… She was talking about losing someone, someone who loved to travel, she seemed devastated about it. That’s why I thought she had a child.”

Annie looked over at Mary to check she was still sleeping. Once she confirmed that she was, Annie turned back to the man. “She used to travel a lot. She was a very independent woman, she travelled all over, but her best stories come from New Zealand. Actually, the book I’m reading now is about her adventures on a cargo ship to South America. Its remarkable what she’s been through and the places she’s visited.”

The young man was inquisitive and was intrigued by what he’d witnessed on the train today. But in concern he was being intrusive, he simply thanked Annie for indulging his questions and went back to looking out the window.

Annie went back to reading Mary’s adventure book, one of the many she’d written through her life. After five years of looking after Mary woman, it broke Annie’s heart to courier her to a place she knows she’ll never leave: her last expedition. Annie had explained this to Mary, but the knowledge never seemed to stick. She spent her days day-dreaming and talking to “strangers” about the life she used to live, and the person she lost.

Mary spent the rest of the trip thinking about the strange woman, she could not shake the sad look from her mind. “I wonder if she’s okay,” Mary wondered aloud.

“I’m sure she’s fine Mary,” said Annie.

“Do you think she’ll find whoever she’s looking for?”

Annie smiled at her friend. “I hope so.”


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