Substitute fear with faith. Substitute fear with faith. Substitute fear with faith
Her mind kept reminding her in a loop as she took long strides on a deserted lane in the remote corner of the little commune in North-Eastern France. The short day of winter month had tucked the Sun to bed early. The light from the roadside lamps glowed in their own vanity and didn’t bother to spread beyond a few feet from their feet. The pitch darkness of mere 6 pm had put the moonless midnight to shame. The sleepy French hamlet which otherwise also had a very low level of activity had seen its boulangerie, café, épicerie, and restaurant roll their shutters down by that time. Not even their neon signs had any life in them. The traffic signal changed its colour for no one in particular on the empty roads in a disciplined manner.
“Beep beep” came the ominous sound from her mobile indicating a fast-depleting battery. ‘It won’t be far’, she thought as she glanced at the GPS which indicated that the railway station was only 700m away. The soft blue light of the glowing mobile screen was spread across her ever-growing pale worried face. ‘Once there, I will surely find the charging point’, she affirmed while pulling her overcoat a little closer to herself.
‘Next time I am not going to miss the last bus from the facility, come what may, she reminded herself. She was at the factory on the opposite side of the hamlet for regular maintenance of their boilers. Once a month she would pay it a visit. That day a minor deflection in the readings prompted her to investigate further making her miss the last bus to the railway station. Having no other means of transportation, she marched off so as not to miss the last train back to the city.
The eerie darkness, stridulations of the crickets, random hooting of the owls, and her gait all were pleading guilty for the crowd of sweat beads on her forehead contradicting the mercury which was lurking near frostiness.
‘I hope I reach in time for the last train’, she assuaged while crossing the road. A sudden honk and loud screeching sound made her life jump out of her body. A car came to a halt just a few feet away from her. Lost in thoughts and having caught sight of the railway station building, had made her forget that she needed to check right and left before crossing the road.
‘Desole monsieur’ she said, briefly looking in the direction of the driver who had by then rolled down the glass window. The driver’s outburst in French was nothing more than the slur for her and thus was lost in the thin air as she dashed ahead anyway. Sans any built railway platform, the dimly lit, forlorn railway station was no more than a cast-off small guard’s house. The ticketing and information window had an unwelcoming ‘Ferme’* placard displayed prominently.
‘Was I expecting otherwise?’ she muttered in dismay as she turned to find out the automatic ticketing kiosk. Finding one was easy as there were just two machines in the corner opposite the ticketing window, snack vending and ticket dispensing. The light inside the snack vending machine flickered freakishly with the sole intention of distracting the ticket buyer standing next to it.
Adjusting her sight to the display screen of the ticketing machine, she got busy choosing her destination and selected to buy one ticket. Inserting the debit card into the slot, she looked up. The automatic indicator displayed the next train, the last one, in 1 minute. Her fragile relief however was short-lived. The ticketing screen blinked with a ‘payment rejected’ message. Shaking her head in dread, she repeated the entire process again. While she was about to insert the card again, the train came to a halt with a toot. She heard the sound of the doors of coaches opening. Her fingers trembled as she feared she would miss the last train.
Pushing the clouds of uncertainty aside, she typed the card code again and waited patiently for the ticket to be dispensed. The lady luck, just like the sleepy hamlet, had retired to roost. ‘Payment rejected’ message flashed mocking her. Tears gathered in her blue eyes that were fast losing their shine. Reaching out for her sling bag, she rummaged through its contents to find her wallet. A moment or two into the search, which felt like an eternity, she got hold of it. Pulling it out she unzipped it, her eyes scrutinizing its every compartment for the sign of cash, coins anything that would save her day.
Some hurried, some tired footsteps that had descended the train went past her while she was lost in her oblivion. Returning empty from the search, she turned her gaze to the machine again to give a last try with the card. As she was selecting the destination, she felt a tap on her right shoulder accompanied by a clearing of the throat. A faint scream was about to escape her trembling lips as she feared the unknown.
Her petrified look was met with a gentle gleaming face. There stood a woman in her middle age wearing a trench coat, a stylish beret cap, and knee-high black boots. A delicate lace around the neck of her dress was peeping out indicating her fine taste in clothes. Her eyes had the calmness of the sparkling lake amidst the meadow.
‘Hurry. Take these coins and don’t waste time else the train will leave without you’, she said with a sense of urgency, stretching her hand towards her and holding some euros in the open palm. Those words thawed her frozen mind and without giving a second thought she took the coins and got the tickets. Grabbing the ticket that tumbled in the ticket tray, she ran towards the train. The guard’s whistle was reaching its crescendo signalling the closure of the coach doors. Climbing the steps of the coach in nick of time, she turned back to thank her benevolent benefactor.
The dim-lit building of the station stood in stoic silence with flickering light punctuating its strange loneliness. There was no sign of any life around there. Was that ‘gracious’ lady figment of my imagination? Was I dreaming? Was she speaking in English in this French hamlet? Was it a haunted place? Was it…? These and many such questions and doubts raged a storm and ravaged her tired mind. She looked in bewilderment at the ticket as she slowly released the fingers of her clenched fist that held it securely!
Picture courtesy: I, me, myself 😉
Location: Gare de Lozanne, France (Lozanne railway station)