An Early Apparition

It was in my much younger days. That’s when this all happened. I was an apprentice butcher and I had to start work very early in the morning. It was still the night before when we got to the warehouse, if you get me. That’s how early it was. Before long I impressed the top man enough that he trusted me to open up, and that meant starting even earlier, to be there on time to unlock the doors and get the place ready for the trucks to arrive. Just turning on all the lights took quite a while. But it was good. The top man showed faith in me and I felt a bit proud and I did my best.

We were all learning then, even when we didn’t think we were we were learning, and they would constantly give me new things to do and I thought I couldn’t do them. But you try, don’t you? And I wasn’t afraid to ask – I wanted to learn, see – and we were getting better all the time.

I was always well turned out. My Ruthie always made sure that my pants were clean and my shirt was starched. And I took great care of my knives. I was very proud of them. I spent hours sharpening and cleaning them. But you’ve got to be careful of knives. People don’t like to see a sharp knife, not outside a kitchen, and when you’ve got a whole collection of cut your finger off sharp knives with you at all times it’s best to cover them up so people don’t see. I carried them in a small sports bag when I caught the train to work. Inside the bag were the sandwiches Ruthie had made for me, often with a bit of mutton from last night, and my paper, and my knives, which were wrapped in a thick cloth.

It was dark when I left home for work in those days. Dark and cold, most of the time. You could feel the cold coming up from the platform, up through your feet and your legs and your whole body as you waited for the train. Nobody spoke. It was too early. It was too cold. You don’t speak. You keep to yourself. I would take out my paper and read, and the train would soon come. There weren’t many other people who waited for the train. But there were a few. There was a young bloke, about my age, who wore the pants chefs wear, and there were one or two others I had seen before. There was a woman who wore a beanie on her head but never seemed to have enough other clothes on. She always looked cold. She would stamp her feet if the train was late, and she would fold her arms too, just to try to make herself a bit warmer. I doubt it worked. But it was worth a try, I suppose. When you’re cold. And there were other people, but I didn’t notice them, as people are private, and not all people wait for the train every day, so they’re harder to remember when you try.

On the carriage, always the front carriage, a man who worked for the railways sat on the other side of the aisle from me. Or I sat opposite him, as he was already there when I got on. It wasn’t full but there were people spread evenly among the seats in the front carriage. A man a few seats in front had a loud conversation with someone in India, every morning, and for some reason it wasn’t distracting. I read about the cricket and the footy and it didn’t really bother me at all. But he did talk. He talked the whole way. I used to wonder what there was to talk about – nobody else was talking – but I suppose phone calls were cheap at that time of the morning.

Each station we stopped at on the train had a few people waiting and they got on and sat down. It was a short trip really. Half an hour. But the carriage became cosy with people by the end, and this was no bad thing in the cold, and it was always cold.

One day a man with an unkempt yellowing beard and clothes which smelled like sherry got on. There were holes in his pants at the knee and he carried a filthy bag full of his possessions. He dragged his bag upstairs and started shouting and being a nuisance. Talking to himself, you know. The way people do sometimes. He was in his own world. He seemed to be arguing, although there was nobody to argue with. He sat down on a long bench of a seat and put his bag down somewhere safe. He kept fidgeting violently. Moving from one end of the seat to the other, angrily talking all the time, and moving again. “I can see you!” he shouted. “I can see you all!” People started getting up. The Indian man took his phone call downstairs. The man who worked on the railways followed after a few more minutes. A few of the people who got on after me also stood up and made their exit. I stayed.

I told the man to take it easy. I said he was being very rude. That we all share the train and we should be nice to each other. “I can see you!” he said again. I asked him what he meant. What was wrong. He said there were ghosts on the train. It was full of ghosts. “Can you see them?” he asked me. “They’re everywhere.” He pointed to some of the people in the carriage. “See,” he said “See there. See.” All the grey figures who sat still and quiet every day. Ghosts, he said. The people who were on the train when I got on and were still there when I got off. They were ghosts. All of them. “Keep your knives safe,” he said.

When we reached the city three railway security guards got on to the train and forcibly escorted the old man off. He screamed like a wounded animal as they pulled at him and after a number of attempts they succeeded in carrying him off and putting him down near the station master’s office. He shouted, for the last time: “They’re everywhere! On the street. Everywhere.”

The man was insane. That was clear from the start. I never forgot what he said.

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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