Friday, March 5, 2021

Of unspoken friendships, and fruits on the train

How I found comfort on long and tedious daily commutes, and am now dreading not getting to do it,

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As the date draws near for temporary closure of the train line from Epping to Chatswood to make way for the Metro, my heart is starting to sink.

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As a resident of Epping travelling to the City every day for work, I am directly impacted. My reasons for resenting the suspension of my usual travel route, however, are less to do with the inconvenience which is bound to ensue, and more sentimental.

It was while scanning through all the information provided for commuters to consider alternatives, when I realised that more than the train line, it’s my regular co-passengers that I am going to miss more. They are familiar strangers – people who are an intrinsic part of my journey every day, and not having them around would probably make the journey more tedious than it already is.

Photo: Sydney Metro Retail

Travelling with a four-year old is never easy. Certainly not early morning, when she is charged up for all activities scheduled for her day ahead. And definitely not in the late afternoon, when she is tired and cranky! Thankfully for me, during both these journeys, I have come to be surrounded by some familiar co-passengers, whose presence is not just comforting, but on more than one occasion, has been a blessing over the past few months.

They are the ones who always board our usual compartment in the train. And we end up together, day after day. They probably follow the same schedule, or prefer to travel in that part of the train for some reason. There is an unspoken camaraderie between us all, which is both inexplicable and endearing – and will be sorely missed.

Like the lady in the electric blue coat. We first saw her one afternoon when my daughter was having a meltdown at the platform while waiting for the train. The middle-aged Fiji Indian woman gave me a knowing smile of probably having endured many such tantrums. I smiled too. She is probably at a senior post, because I frequently see her issuing instructions on the phone, or participating in long conference calls. But I have never asked, and really, it doesn’t matter. We now talk about how our day was, and my daughter loves it when ‘her blue coat aunty’ manages to pull out a sweet treat for her from her bag.

And that Asian girl and her mother who board the train in the afternoon from Chatswood. I once saw them in the morning around my usual spot at Epping station, the mother looking hassled like me – getting her daughter to wear her jumper, feeding her breakfast while balancing a couple of heavy bags on her shoulders. I smiled inwardly, seeing almost a reflection of ourselves in the duo. That afternoon, they boarded our compartment again. This is when we smiled and got talking. The girls, it turned out, are the exact same age. My daughter offered her a portion of the afternoon fruit snack she was devouring, and a friendship started. A few weeks on, she refuses to open her snack box till her friend has boarded the train so that they can share from each other’s tiffins, while the mothers catch up on pre-school notes about their daughters.

Or that aged Australian lady who is always busy with a puzzle – word games, Sudoku, crosswords – she seems to excel at all. We became friends on a hot day when my daughter dozed off in my lap, and there was nothing more I could do than turn my head. The lady was sitting next to me and the word puzzle she was trying to solve on her phone caught my attention. I helped her out with one word. That led to a few sentences of talking. After three weeks of seeing each other nearly every day, I now know where she works, lives and that she has two beautiful grand-daughters. The puzzles help keep her brain active, she says. And have been refreshing mine too.

Even that Indian lady from Mumbai who always used to board the train panting – she usually ran from her office to the platform, and would then get ready to sprint again from Epping station to her child’s school by running to the train’s doors. In the middle, we’d catch up over our common Indian roots, how she was looking forward to her in-laws visiting, what was for dinner that night, and how she retorted when her manager pulled her up unfairly.

Not to forget the two men – one a banker, and another working with a consultancy. They have kids the same age as my daughter, and we usually exchange notes on swimming lessons and new restaurants to try around our area.

It’s not a nice feeling to know that I’ll probably not see them ever again after 30 September. I am not entirely sure how much I want our friendships to grow. But I will definitely take down their phone numbers on the next trip. If only just to enquire how their journeys are going.

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