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All aboard the (broken) family train

The train from London Paddington left from platform eight.

By the time I reached the station, I knew that I’d be one of the last to alight and, as usual, the choice of available seats was limited.  Bags in one hand and coffee in another, I politely asked the woman in the corner if the seat next to her was free.

Apart from the fact that her coat may have needed to be laid out flat, it was clear that no one was occupying this seat.  The combination of her frown and audible expression of frustration made it clear, however, that she was far from happy with my ‘intrusion’.

As the train pulled out of the station, I could feel the tension and hoped that the next station would give me an excuse to move and find another spot. 

I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the vibe.

Twenty minutes later, I was woken by a tourist trying to pronounce our first destination stop.  After years of observation, I have to conclude that our friends from the US find it hardest to announce their arrival in a place named Slough.  Nine times out of ten, it comes out as ‘sloff’ or ‘slew’.

I smiled to myself and then remembered my neighbour.  I bet she wasn’t smiling, I thought.  But I could hardly dare to look.

Then, all of a sudden, she tapped me on my shoulder.  My heart sank and I prepared to defend my position.  Except that, when I turned towards her, I saw a kindness in her face that wasn’t there before.

‘I just wanted to say,’ she said, ‘in case you were getting off here that I’m sorry for how I was with you before.  It is just that I am about to have a really bad weekend and I took it out on you.  Please forgive me.’

It wasn’t at all what I expected her to say.  Not this side of sloff, anyway.

I quietly said that it was okay.  I was sorry she was going to have a bad weekend, I added.

This was her cue to tell me her story.  Her parents were recently divorced and this weekend she would be visiting them in Oxford for the first time in separate houses.  She explained how hard it was for her to make sense of what had happened.

I smiled sympathetically and went back to my book. 

If only she knew, I thought to myself.  I’ve been on this journey for years now, a divorced dad aboard the train of modern family life; trying my best to keep travelling closer towards those I love most in all the world; sometimes struggling myself to make sense of having children in separate homes – in separate countries.

As the train reached its final destination, the American family, I noticed, were busy gathering their things and excitedly debating how to pronounce Magdalen College.  I wanted to turn to my neighbour and let her know that it really was going to be okay; that even a broken home can provide a homecoming.  I wanted to tell her that I was trying to make sense of everything too and that I truly believe that, in the end, these things will all be well.

But before I had a chance to say anything at all, I noticed that she was already on her way.

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