Richard quietly cursed his luck. He had missed the early train because of the stupid taxi passenger at the station entrance, who had opened the door without looking, hitting him in the knee. Nothing was broken, but he was now limping along like Long John Silver. The early train was always less crowded and he even had the chance of getting a seat. He was nearly last to board the next train and his knee was already giving him hell. He knew what was to come but still, he found the whole arrangement very tedious. His fellow passengers were likewise voicing their disapproval. They stood, wedged in the crowded carriage, tired and sweaty after the airless journey from the Centre. Their misery was to be compounded by the failure of the train company to finish the work on the line in time for the Monday rush home. Mobile phones were pressed to peoples ears or the raised pitch of voices talking into the ether from those on earphones or some BlueTooth device, confirmed to their loved ones that delays were inevitable.
The difficulties on the line had been well covered in the media but the final straw came as they moved off from the station. A broadcast to say that there was a “person on the line”, ahead of the planned destination. The original arrangement was to stop at Amersford and manage the final part of their journey by bus. This new message meant they would stop even earlier on the line at Daws Hill and then be subjected to an even longer journey by road. There was little shared sympathy for the “person on the Line”. Richard followed suit and dialled home. Pressing the device to his ear, he just about heard, over the noise in the carriage, Jennifer’s voice in reply. “I’m on the train” he shouted, mainly to annoy the other passengers. “There is another problem and we will be stopping at Daws Hill, I will call you from there”. He did not want to go into detail about the cause of the change in plan, or about his knee, and she did not ask for any more detail. She just sighed and said, “Your dinner will be in the dog”. They didn’t have a dog but it was her usual quip when he was going to be late.
As always seemed to be the case, only a few people left the train at the early stations and there was still no room to sit, to allow him to rest the knee. His other leg now hurt and he was beginning to get impatient. The train began to slow and his fellow passengers became even more restless. Some gathering their belongings because this was their usual stop and the remainder making the noises of disquiet so often heard in the overcrowded carriages. Those whose stop it was, gradually eased themselves towards the doors in a well-practiced manoeuvre, with only a little more objection than usual from the rest, knowing he extra misery that lay ahead.
Buttons were being pressed even before the train had stopped and as soon as the doors opened, the pack was released. The local crowd streamed to their usual exits while those who were to be bussed onward, looked for the signs which would lead them to the replacement busses that had been promised. Previous experience of these events prepared the commuters for the pain of jamming themselves on-to cold, barely clean local busses which were likely to travel directly passed their homes, to deliver them to the train station, where their cars were waiting or their significant other would collect them. Richard moved along with the host of commuters, not because he could, but because his knee refused to allow him much choice. He only just managed to stay upright as he was swept onto the platform.
The signs to the waiting busses were even worse than usual and he had difficulty making out the scribbles on the board. The crowd moved as one in the general direction of the last gate on the platform and he was carried along with them, trying to make out if one of the busses might be travelling directly to his intended destination, bypassing the other affected stations. Still, there were no clear indications on the boards. The transfer system had clearly failed this time. He could stand the pain of his knee no longer and he made a huge effort to leave the throng, managing to break out from the melee and pausing to rest by the uniformed person on the platform. Stations were generally lightly staffed at this time of day but in this kind of situation there were generally more than just one. The staff member looked bemused. Richard asked her if there were any special arrangements for busses, or would they all take the same route as the train. “I have no idea what’s going on” she said, “I didn’t know there was a problem here, I thought it was further up at Amersford. I’ve never seen so many people”. “There are a couple of busses outside but I don’t know what they’re for”.
Richard could not believe his bad luck. Damaged knee, late train, works on the line, confusion over which station had a problem. He turned to the exit. Most of the crowd had left the platform and he struggled to catch up. As he reached the gate, he could see that there were two coaches moving away from the front of the station. A large number of people were gathered on the pavement and raised voices turned the air blue with words not normally associated with suits and ties. The general drift was that there were only two coaches and the system had broken down into a farce; again.
No more coaches turned up and the rest had to make their own arrangements.
The Nine O’clock News was grim. “Ninety commuters abducted in daring incident at Daws Hill Station”.