End Station

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She liked the smell of the rain especially the old upholstered seats. She also didn’t mind that the patterned leather smelled of bad food and alcohol. Meanwhile she didn’t notice the smell anymore. She liked the shaking and the feeling just before leaving. When the train arrived, she felt as if she was being carried.

She always imagined strong man’s hands lifting her. She liked the feeling of being caught. She always opened her arms and slowly sank into the seat. At first she didn’t catch his eye. Just an old woman who waited quite early on the platform. Maybe she had been an early riser, maybe was visiting someone… And so if she was? He was rather interested in how to get rid of this unbearable tiredness. The shift had just begun and the day will be so miserably long and arduous. At this time of the day the city was still asleep, sluggishly awake. It’s as if she was demonstratively turning around one more time and closing her blanket. She would ignore all disturbing noises, all…

She would be completely motionless. She takes her time as she gets up. He often felt as if the city was provoking or even teasing him. This silence was unbearable, he thought. As much as he wanted, he couldn’t be friends with her. Every morning at shortly before 4 am he drank the last sip of his cheap filter coffee and switched the ignition on. Meanwhile he had got used to the taste. The bitter taste of coffee standing for hours. After a sigh he drove off. Fields passed him, houses and streets.

Over time, only unclear, indistinct sillhouettes could be seen. Just like the loud radio, which he mostly overheard. It was always the same channel, always 96.9 FM. Most of the time they played the same. A constant noise from commercials, pop songs and traffic jams. The first time he saw her was on a cold November day, just as he was entering the terminus. The train emptied and so he did one last check. The old woman leaned against the window and slept.

“Sorry, you have to get off here. This is the end of the line!”
But she didn’t move.
“Hello, hello?”
Carefully he nudged her. She flinched.
“Good evening.”
She cleared her throat.
“You scared me.”
“I’m sorry, this is the end of the line.”
He repeated. She looked around confused.
“Where are we?”
“In Wedding.”
“Wedding?”
“Yes in Berlin-Wedding. And you have to get off here now, as I said.
That’s common at end stations…”

He became more and more impatient. He had no interest at all in such discussions.
“Why?”
“I’m not going to explain to you how things work now, young lady.
Will you please get out now?”

“No, why is this the end station?”
“My goodness! Because everything has a beginning and an end.
I worked all morning 
and now I am done for the day.
That means I can go home and enjoy my evening,
which will soon come to an end if you keep me here.”

She leaned against the window again and closed her eyes. Her eyelids trembled slightly. She froze a little. Slowly she reached for her coat and covered her shoulder.

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“Are you listening to me at all?”
“Listen to me.”
She whispered.
“I will have to call the guards or the police who will force you out of here.”
He ran nervously back and forth.
“Is that what you want?”
“Do you hear that?”

“Okay, I’m gonna call security now.”
Determined, he went back to the cabin.
“You can’t hear it?”
She asked calmly.
“Do you know what you’re about to hear?
The screaming of the security guys when you don’t leave the train.”

“Have you ever heard it?”
She continued.
Her voice sounded calm and controlled.

Meanwhile, the driver hastily dug into his jacket pocket to search for his mobile phone.
“I’ll have the number…”
“You can call as much as you want,
I won’t let you tell me where the end station is.
Especially not from you.”

“What does that mean from you?” He laughed ironically.
“Can’t I stay here?”
“That is not possible, no. The next shift doesn’t start for five hours.”
“I´ll wait.”
“Yes, but not in here, damn it!”

He really had to make an effort not to lose his temper. This woman was the last thing he needed after a hard day’s work. She cost him valuable time at work, which he had been looking forward to all day.
She did not let herself be irritated.

“Is the next train leaving from here again?”
“Yes, but not for another five hours.”

She straightened up, put on her coat and gradually closed the buttons. She did it with such calm that the driver froze for a moment and watched her do it. She had been quite a beautiful woman in the early 70s. She had bright blue eyes and shoulder-length grey hair adorning her wrinkled face. Her brown coat was elegant, the color was already slightly washed out. Probably it was the only thing she still had of elegant clothes.

“Have a nice evening then.”
She stood up and slowly walked out the door.
“So, now you´re going?!” 

The next few days he saw her regularly waiting on the platform. She was the first to enter, the first to greet him in the morning. She got in, went into the back car and then leaned herself against the window. And although the train became more and more full and hectic, she didn’t seem to mind. The driver smiled at her. Most of the time he didn’t greet her back and just shook his head in disbelief. He was sure she belonged to those confused big city figures. Weeks passed. Shortly before his shift change there was another knock on the window. He recognized the blue eyes that timidly looked into the cabin.

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“You again. Are you following me?”
The voice was unclear to her through the matt window. When he opens the door he gets startled. She was hardly recognizable. She had clearly aged. And got thinner. Her skin was yellowish, her hair tousled. She trembled all over her body, trying to warm herself with her coat. She wore blue rubber boots and much too big training trousers in which she sank. She smiled.
“Have you heard it yet?”
“Aren’t you cold?” he asked in surprise.

“You know, I always wanted to be a train driver too. Must be a great feeling to be the first to drive into Berlin, right?”
“Hmm… Yes, if it wouldn’t be so early…”
“But what about the sunrise on the Tempelhofer Feld?”
“If I constantly looked to the right and left, I probably wouldn’t bring everyone home safe and sound.”
It burst out of him. They lingered in silence for a while.
“I’d like to ride your train for a day.”

“Better not. Better if you go now home and leave me with the train driving.
Say, where do you actually go the whole day?”

She looked at him in amazement. Then she roared away:

“You said it was the end station but it’s not when it’s the beginning again! I could go on just like before! You are a liar and a hypocrite.”
It became quiet in the train, looks crossed.
“Are you abandoned by all good spirits?”
It broke out of him.

With full conviction she pointed to the driver and shouted: “This man claims that this is the end station”. She stormed out the door. The next day he could hardly wait to see her. What did she think… To expose him so easily in front of everyone? He would get out of the cabin and insult her as an “old rattler”.

The whole train would cheer and roar with laughter. But she didn’t stand there. Not even weeks later. Why did that bother him so much? After some time he realized that he would probably see her more again. He would have liked it so much. On that day he made the patrol through the train, he sat down in her seat at the end of the corridor, put his head to the window pane. He closed his eyes and for the first time noticed the silence of the empty train. Feel the slight cold of the window, feel the soft seat she was leaning against. And then he listened and finally heard…

For our German readers!
Read this article in German.

M.

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