2007. Anywhere but here ...


Sat down, got comfy, I know this train, I know it very well, I’ve been on it before, except in the past I have had to alight two stops along in the journey, glancing enviously at those still onboard, wishing too that my ticket was stamped “anywhere but here”; a one way permit to release me from the Black Country chains that have bound me to its soil since I was 6. But my ticket was always a return, a little rectangular piece of orange and white paper that was stamped, “not today mate … back you go.”

But today is a different day. Today I am leaving for good. The red chair on the train feels no different, the architecture out the window having only slightly changed in the 28 years I have known it; progress here has been slow, and my life seems to have wondered along with it at the same relentlessly slow pace. But not today. And before I know it, before I have even settled and made myself comfortable by placing my travel items around me, the bottle of water; the expensive magazine; the cheap murky brown liquid sold to me under the pretence and illusion of coffee, comes the distant shriek of whistles, and the train shunts and jolts an inch in that moment before it departs; an inch away from home; the first inch of a million that will soon come and go.

A young man, no more than 25 years of age, sits across the isle from me. He fidgets and tries to get comfortable, eventually getting out a small bottle of Brandy. He hides the bottle of Coke that the Brandy is being poured into and notices me watching him. He talks to me and tells me that he has just been released from prison, has nowhere to go, has no money or family and will most likely end up back in the clink anyway, “…so fuck it,” he says, “Cheers,” necking his Brandy-Cola cocktail. We talk some more, about this and about that. I hear the nervousness in his voice, the vulnerability.

“Tickets please, tickets from Wolverhampton?!” is called, and I get my ticket ready. The young man hides his Coke bottle. “Tickets please.” I pass mine over.  
I watch the ticket-man look over the details of my ticket hoping that he doesn’t find some small detail that would prevent my journey from progressing any further. When you have lived a life under the red-tape and mindless bureaucracy that can often come with the most simple of things, you can tend to come to expect that something will always be wrong, even when you have done all that is right. But not today.

Stamp. Click. “Thank you, sir … tickets please, tickets from Wolverhampton.”

And that was it, I was on my way. I looked out of the window and realised that I had forgotten to say goodbye to my home of 28 years. I had always imagined that I would look out of the window and mentally wave goodbye to the place, but that never happened. My mind wasn’t on remembering the day I arrived there in 1981, the memory of my first day in school, the home that I came to love; a lifetime of events that helped shape the man I became through a childhood that was relatively pleasant yet hinged on so much going wrong, as though the secrets and darkness within others were constantly present beyond a precipice, one that I had always been aware of in presence, but found waiting for me later on in life.

At the very moment I had always imagined I would look out of the train window and say goodbye to twenty-seven years of my life and twenty-seven years of memories, my eyes and my mind were on a young man just out of prison, looking as lost on his own unknown path, as I was on the path that I was now inching my way along, and although I can never compare my path with his, I am quite sure that for a moment he saw the vulnerability in my eye’s too.

He asks me where I am heading.

'Anywhere but here. ' I reply.