Observing the silence

The train was virtually empty, at least my carriage was, except for a young man and couple in the seats just ahead of me. They weren’t together, that is, the young man was sitting opposite them and had struck up a conversation. He was from Bath and was travelling to visit his grandfather. I usually drive, he told them. The couple sounded elderly, and the man quite opinionated. They’d clearly been to a service commemorating Armistice Day for he was talking about a rehearsal and singing. Oh, said the young man, I didn’t realise you were professional. I was reading throughout all of this. I would’ve preferred silence but was happy to let the sound of their voices float around me. There was also a man behind me who kept rattling and shaking what sounded like a plastic bag of sorts. I was calm. It was a beautiful day, the landscape a myriad of autumnal colour and I was on the move getting closer to home and to him. And I’d used my ingenuity and more than a little cheek by asking the train manager if I could take that train as mine had been delayed. He had acquiesced. Then I realised the time. I texted him. Shall we observe the silence together? I asked. Yes, he replied. He later told me he’d pulled over for those two minutes. However, the three ahead of me were still talking. What should I do? How can I put it politely? With just three minutes to go I stood up and went over to them. Will you be observing the silence at 11.00? I asked. What? said the man, do you want to sleep? No, I said, the silence for Armistice, the hundred years, I continues, a little thrown that he hadn’t understood. Then he did and¬†immediately took umbrage. Pulling his lapel to one side he showed me his badge. I was in the services, he said, his voice sharp now. And then grabbing what looked like a covered pole from his wife, he said: do you want me to get out my standard for you? No, no, I said, embarrassed, I just wanted to check. I’ve been keeping an eye on the time, said his wife. The man from Bath smiled at me as I returned to my seat.

Then just before 11.00 the train tannoy came on announcing the next station. I heard the man laugh derisively. Was it at me?

They all left at the next station. I saw the wife but not the man, had he gone the other way out? The man from Bath lent over to me as he went by. A nice observance, he said, well done.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.