The station clock was showing 23.52 as Simon reached the ticket office. The last train from Waterloo leaves at 11.55 pm precisely. He had to catch that train. Panic began to raise its ugly head. His heart was pumping and he could feel the drips of cold sweat running down his body.
There was only one person in front of him. Simon felt some relief. The stranger was making some inquiry about return reservations. Panic started to reassert itself. Simon almost wanted to push his way in and demand a ticket. He resisted. He was not that sort of person.
The man in front finally finished his inquiry and Simon quickly purchased his ticket. “Platform three, you’d better hurry,” the clerk told him. Simon didn’t hear, he was already half way to the elevator.
Finally, ticket in hand, he dashed onto the platform. The guard was about to blow his whistle. He jumped into the nearest compartment. The train began to move.
It was one of those old single-compartment carriages, with no access corridor. It bore all the marks of long arduous service and a few more modern reminders of today’s vandalistic youth. There was only one other occupant.
Simon sighed and released the pent up tensions. He sat down, diagonally opposite his travelling companion, and took a moment to study her. She was very young, early twenties he guessed, and quite pretty. She was dressed in a smart business suit and was reading the evening paper. She was just the type of girl he would like to get to know.
She had eyed him nervously when he entered the compartment and now gave him the occasional suspicious glance around the edge of her newspaper. Simon felt he would have to break the ice.
“I nearly didn’t make it,” he said. “I couldn’t afford to be stuck in London tonight.”
“I have a whistle and a gas canister,” she replied tersely but calmly. “I also have a brown belt in karate.”
“Very impressive, but you needn’t worry about me. My name’s Simon, by the way, Simon Smith, I’m afraid I haven’t got my bear with me tonight.” She either wasn’t amused by his attempt at a joke, or didn’t understand it. “I love your accent. Where are you from, New Zealand?”
She folded her paper and looked at him for a few moments. Simon felt that she was staring into his soul and reading his true character. She smiled. She looked beautiful when she smiled. “I’m sorry I was so rude,” she began. “You can’t be too careful travelling alone these days. There are so many reports in the newspapers about attacks and rapes. I’m Sally, and would you believe I’m a Smith too.”
“There are a lot of us about,” Simon smiled, as he accepted her proffered hand. “Pleased to meet you Sally.”
“I’m Australian,” Sally continued. “Or at least I’ve lived there for most of my life, since my parents were killed when I was tiny. My aunt and uncle over there took me in.”
“I’m sorry about your parents. What happened to them?” Simon showed genuine concern.
“They were murdered. I’d rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.” A flash of past grief was mirrored in Sally’s eyes. In a moment it passed and she smiled again. “I got over it a long time ago.”
The train suddenly lurched to a stop. As far as they could see they were in a tunnel. Without warning, the lights failed. The darkness was total. They were both silent for seconds that seemed like minutes. The tension began to build. Sally was afraid again. In the dark her other senses were heightened. She strained to hear if he made a move, and could hear his steady breathing. His masculine smell was in her nostrils. She felt his presence. The tension was getting unbearable. She wanted to scream.
“I don’t suppose you have a torch among your combat gear do you?” Simon asked. Sally laughed, the tension was broken.
“I was once in Australia, in Sydney,” Simon continued. “We had a trip into the Blue Mountains. We visited the Jenolan caves. Australia is a beautiful country. While you are in one of the big caves they turn out all the lights and let you experience complete darkness. It’s eerie. This is the nearest I’ve been to the same thing.”
The lights and the train struggled back into life. The remainder of the journey passed quickly in conversation. Simon silently thanked fate for arranging this meeting, particularly after he had managed to get Sally’s telephone number.
“This is my station coming up,” Sally said, as they slowed for the first stop. “I have really enjoyed our conversation; I hope you give me a call sometime.” She smiled one of her most seductive smiles.
“I’m glad I was late for the train,” Simon replied. “I promise I’ll call you very soon.”
The train ground to a halt with screeching brakes. It was an effort for both of them to break eye contact as they said their farewells.
“Goodbye Simon, I’ll be waiting for your call,” Sally shouted to the waving Simon as the train pulled out of the station.
He sat in the empty compartment and reviewed the evening. The faint scent of Sally’s perfume still lingered, overpowering the stale smell of the train, and stirred carnal thoughts in Simon’s mind. Were they ships that had passed in the night, or would they meet again and build a relationship? Simon had a heavy yearning in his heart that bordered on the melancholy, and an ache in his groin that bordered on the explosive. At least these feelings were better than the feeling of panic when he had nearly missed the train. Panic at missing a meeting that would have undoubtedly cost him his job and his future.
The time between stations seemed to pass in an instant as Simon, lost in his fantasies, imagined what might happen when he next met Sally.
It was only when the train pulled into the next station that Simon realised he was on the wrong train.
Not caring about the no-smoking sign, he lit a cigar and sat back in his seat puffing away deeply. Happiness is a girl called Sally, he thought.