Summer 2011 #2
A bearded man is standing smack outside the toilet door at the end of our railway carriage. He’s not going in, and he hasn’t come out, his is just standing there! He is behind our seats, not twelve feet away, quite preoccupied with the door to the disabled toilet! He has been there at least 15 minutes now. We are surreptitiously peeking at him; unable to resist even though we know how dreadfully rude it is to gawk. What on earth is he doing?
We are finally, after months of waiting, on a train together! Our last attempt was foiled by flood waters that cut the track and left us stranded in different towns. But tonight my Favourite Wife and I are sitting side by side on the overnight to Sydney; the Red Eye, the train that in my university days was known simply as ‘the mail’. In those prehistoric times the train was unheated, slow, and cheap; but tonight it’s a very different affair. This is a signal event for us: the first train trip we have shared in our married life. Little One is in respite care for a few nights, and we are off to the seaside! It’s 11.45pm, we’ve got our thermos and left over Christmas cake at the ready, and nothing will spoil our wonderful adventure!
… except … the presence of a bearded man behind us is unnerving to say the least. The disabled toilet has an automatic door, and once in a while this fellow presses the button, opening the doors at random. He stares inside until the doors shut again. And still he stays put. With each glance I steal his visage seems to me a little less civil; more to be feared. He’s loitering; no doubt about that. But is he stalking as well? Casing the joint?
He’s been there forty minutes! It’s now early morning, and we ought to be comfortably sleeping to the soothing sway and clickety clack of the locomotive. Other passengers occasionally make their way past the bearded man and a railway guard has just had words with him as well. I’m certain he warned him in no uncertain terms: “Move along please!” But he didn’t move. He didn’t budge an inch! It’s the mark of a psychopath, so I have read, to have an avowed disregard for authority.
We’ve got our backs to the bearded man, but I suspect he’s watching us. We both agree that he’s bound to be eyeing of my wheelchair which is unattended and vulnerable behind our seat. He glanced at my luggage. He’s probably noticed the Computer bag fixed to the arm-rest with my brand new Netbook inside. We mustn’t keep staring at him, but then if he’s a clever thief I can’t afford to turn away. Not for a moment! Perhaps I should call the conductor and give voice to my alarm.
I am a bearded man myself as it happens. I fancy myself to be hirsute in an erudite, academic fashion; sporting the vague scruffiness of a man whose mind is obviously distracted by lofty concerns. The bearded man behind us is not at all like me: he is simply unshaven. Dark and bristly, he is, in a word, barbate. I wonder, are all barbarians barbate?
Soon, very soon, one of us (probably the other one) will be wanting to use that little room on the train. What then? As a chivalrous husband I must find a way to protect my beloved against stalkers and weirdos. This man is a menacing presence and I have noticed that he doesn’t actually stand at all; he swaggers and slouches in a visibly reprobate manner. Disability be damned, I will take him on! I wonder if most atrocities are perpetrated after midnight?
Well, he’s gone. I didn’t see it actually happen. I wish I had eyes in the back of my head (like Miss Breadlough in second class at Mosman Public School) but I’m absolutely sure he’s now in the W.C. Why anyone would take the better part of an hour to make that decision is none of my business, and something I’m not keen to speculate on. But I’m sure he’s in there!
Turns out he was charging his phone. Nice sort of fellow I’d say, he nodded to us on his way past a moment later, mobile and cords in hand.
It may not be, I suspect, an entirely healthy thing to jump to rash conclusions; or to toy with irrational fears in the middle of the night. Now, haven’t I learned that lesson somewhere before?
And I’m not so sure he had a beard, after all.