Planet excerpts

A short Story by Tony Bianchi

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I first met Terry in 1984. It was a bright summer afternoon, about five months into the miners’ strike. We both got onto the train at Llanelli. I was travelling back to Cardiff after a day’s cycling around the Carmarthenshire coast. He, it transpired, was bound for Neath. I’d noticed his bright orange jacket. I thought, at first, that he might not be a passenger at all, but engaged on some railway business. Track maintenance, probably: something requiring high visibility.

I sat at the back of the carriage, near the door, holding on to my bike with one hand, the Western Mail in the other. I read about the death of Richard Burton. A few minutes into our journey, the guard came to check our tickets. When he and Terry struck up a conversation I concluded that they were indeed colleagues. Terry, still in his work clothes, had just finished his shift and was now homeward bound. I looked at him more closely. He was about my age – early thirties at the most − fair-haired, fresh-complexioned, sturdy. Then, suddenly, both became more earnest, more animated. I heard the guard’s voice, much louder now. ‘It’s the right ticket, sir,’ he said. ‘Right ticket, wrong train.’

‘Wrong train?’ Terry, too, had turned up the volume. He made it sound like the punch-line to a joke. Gave a little chuckle.

‘You’ve boarded the wrong train, sir. This is the express. Doesn’t stop at Neath.’

Terry looked at his ticket, then out through the window, at the countryside speeding by. ‘But you can stop it, can’t you?’ Another chuckle. ‘I mean, you can tell the driver?’ He nodded towards the front of the train. ‘Only takes a minute. Up and away in a minute.’ Cajoling rather than cross.

The guard repeated his explanation. Terry stared at him. Other passengers stared, too, perhaps wondering, like myself, whether the official could indeed exercise discretion. All he said was, ‘You can change at Cardiff.’ Dead-pan...