Apparently, depression affects around five percent of the adult population. I’m not sure if the knowledge of this shared melancholia is comforting or whether it simply adds to the feeling of despair. Perhaps it’s meant to help us feel less isolated, though I can’t say that I find any solace in the fact that others are suffering just as tragically as I am. How about the joyous ninety-five percent? Their contentment doesn’t exactly bring a smile to my face either. I guess I’m not unhappy that they’re happy, but I can’t help but sense that they’re simply just unaware of their underlying unhappiness.
I guess it’s this sort of cynicism that led to my depression in the first place. A never-ending cycle of bitterness and pessimism. A tornado of dissatisfaction and distrust.
There’s almost a sick enjoyment that comes with reaching the depths I’ve reached. The lower you get, the less you care. The less you care, the more fun you can have. Though, it must be said that this ‘fun’ does have the potential to distance yourself from others. Especially those in the content ninety-five percent.
When my depression was at its peak (or more accurately; its trough), the sort of fun I was having landed me in a lot of trouble. Most of that trouble could be forgiven, but some of the damage it caused proved irreparable. Let me give you a piece of advice; no matter how low you go, never, I repeat never, reveal that your cousins are secretly fucking behind the rest of the family’s back. Especially don’t do this when the story is entirely fabricated and solely for your own amusement. Also, doing it over Christmas dinner doesn’t help matters much either.
It must be said that the cousins involved; Matilda and Ronan, actually found the accusation quite amusing. They were understandably far too scared to defend me at the time. I don’t hold that against them though. When you have a room of livid parents screaming their lungs out at my ‘incredibly inappropriate and disgusting’ behaviour, it’s pretty hard to get your voices heard.
At the time, I remember being taken aback by the sudden escalation of the outrage, but as mentioned, I had long passed the point of caring. I was interested in finding out how the family would react to my dirty little revelation, and I was more than satisfied with the result.
As you can probably guess, that was the last I saw of Matilda, Ronan and the rest of my family. Christmas ended abruptly and my parents shunned me for the entirety of Boxing day, all the way through to New Year. Over that period, I heard murmurings between them such as “there’s nothing more that we can do ”, “she’s a lost cause”, and the ominous “how long do we give her?”. On the morning of the second of January, I gathered a feeble collection of my belongings and set out before their alarms would spark them into life. I wanted to boot myself out, before they had a chance to do it themselves.
Travel is often self-prescribed as a cure for depression. Some use it to escape from their woes at home, while others use it to broaden their horizons. There are also some that use it as a way of ‘finding themselves’. A truly sickening phrase. I wasn’t interested in any of these things, however, I couldn’t exactly stay home after trying to convince my family that my cousins were secretly fornicating, could I?
My absence would allow my parents to let go. Perhaps to even forget that I ever existed. Maybe they’d even invite our various aunts and uncles back for Christmas 2023. Without my presence the family could thrive. So, off I went into the unknown. No plan. No ambition. Just a severe lack of purpose or direction.
Most people choose to travel to exotic lands. Places where they can lose themselves, only to rediscover a new, ‘better’ self. A self that they can embrace and appreciate. Again, you guessed it, this wasn’t on my itinerary. The last thing I wanted to do was to travel to somewhere new and revelatory. In spite of this, I found myself shuffling towards the town’s train station. I let my instincts lead me, even if they’d given me plenty of reasons in the past that they were not to be trusted.
Our local train station was so small that there was an absence of any barriers to gain access. There was a window where one was supposed to purchase tickets, but this had a permanent ‘back after lunch’ sign crudely taped to it. We did have a ticket-machine, but that too had seen better days. After a particularly embarrassing loss, a local football fan had tested its hardiness with a beer bottle. Now, half the screen was rendered inoperable. As a result of this, it was now only possible to purchase tickets to locations starting between the letters A and G.
As a train approached, I let my instincts lead once more and jumped on without having a clue where it was headed. I found myself in an empty first-class carriage and fell into one of the plush seats. Despite it being peak time, there wasn’t another soul in sight. It suddenly hit me how far out of my comfort zone I was. I’d spent the last few years avoiding humans as much as possible, but in that moment, I would have cut off a number of my toes to be surrounded by the inane chatter of others. Anything to drown out my own thoughts.
Just as the shakes were beginning, the door behind me burst open. This resulted in me letting out an unwelcome yelp.
“Tickets from King’s Sutton, please”.
An exceptionally tall man loomed over me with a suspicious glint in his eye. We both knew that I wasn’t first-class material. We held each other’s gaze for an uncomfortably long time, neither of us wanting to crack.
“You know it’s actually impossible to buy tickets from King’s Sutton, don’t you?”
The inspector rolled his eyes at my legitimate, but probably overused excuse. He then theatrically swung his portable ticket machine into his hand and started tapping away, now averting his eyes from my own.
“Where are you going today, please?” He asked, still pressing arbitrary buttons on his device.
“Wherever the train takes me, I guess.” His gaze returned. I thought I sensed a smirk forming on his face, but the tone of his voice indicated otherwise.
“Where would you like a ticket to, young lady?” His tapping stopped as he sternly awaited my response.
“Anywhere really. I should probably tell you that I don’t have any money, though.”
“Can I take your name and address, please?”, he requested, not missing a beat.
“I have a name, but not an address.” This threw him somewhat, but he quickly regained his composure.
“Then I’ll have to ask you to leave at Banbury.”
“What if I don’t? What if I never get off? Then surely I don’t need a ticket at all?”
“The train is not a hotel. You will have to eventually get off. Even if it’s after our last service.” His voice trailed-off. He probably concluded that chucking a sixteen year-old girl off the train at midnight wouldn’t be quite as ethically sound as he’d imagined.
“What if I end up getting off where I originally got on? Then I wouldn’t have technically gone anywhere, would I? Surely you can’t charge me for just having a little sit down?”
At this, the inspector raised his eyes to the ceiling and let out a short, shallow sigh. The train arrived at Banbury, and judging by the crowd outside, it was about to get very busy.
“I have a job to do, but I’ll be back soon. So don’t get too comfy.”
“Too late. First-class isn’t bad, is it?” There was that smirk again. This time I was certain of it.
I leant back in my chair satisfied, but also uncertain of what to do next. He was right; I couldn’t exactly live on the train. Person after person, bustled on and raced to find an available seat. I gathered that I wasn’t the only one to sit in first-class without having the appropriate ticket.
A young man gesticulated wildly as he struck up a meeting with whoever was on the other end of his phone. A woman of around sixty leant her head on the glass window and almost instantly began snoring. A mother with a pushchair dropped her child’s belongings to the floor and fought against the legs of strangers to gather them before they were carried further down the carriage. All part of the typical morning commute. Each stop brought a new cast of characters onto the train to replace the ones that had departed. A hum of noise remained constant throughout.
I found the mayhem oddly calming and I too closed my eyes, quickly falling into a shallow, almost hallucinatory slumber. The accidental poking and prodding from the other passengers ensured that I never fully rested, but I remained only semi-aware of the activity surrounding me.
I awoke as the train departed Dorridge to find a small cockapoo licking my left foot. I looked to the owner, only to find a couple passionately running their tongues over each other’s necks. Perhaps the dog found inspiration in this, but I was not about to reciprocate. I gave it a small pat on the head, then opened my book, jabbing an elbow into the male necker’s hip.
“Oh shit, sorry about Colin. He’s a fucking idiot.” He violently pulled on the lead, jerking the dog away from me. Within two seconds, the dog was back at my foot, licking once more.
I stared straight ahead at my book, not reading a word, but choosing to ignore the growing fury of Colin’s owner. He tugged the lead again, causing Colin to let out a pained squeal.
“Leave Colin alone!” This plea impulsively flew out of my mouth, consequentially spraying the couple in angry spittle.
“You know what, fuck you! And fuck Colin! Good luck, bitch.” A middle finger lingered an inch from my nose. Colin’s owner then threw the lead into my lap, put his arm around his partner and swaggered off the train into Solihull station.
Colin looked just as perplexed as me. Though it only took a moment for his coarse tongue to return to my toes. Colin didn’t strike me as the sharpest knife in the draw, but I couldn’t help but feel an instant companionship with this fellow reject. I took his dirty red lead in my hand and gave him an encouraging stroke. He responded by wagging his short stubby tail, then looking up at me, opening his slobbering mouth and panting with enthusiasm.
“Where the hell did you get that dog?” The lofty conductor had returned and loomed over me once more.
“What do you mean? This is my dog. Colin, this is the moody conductor. Moody conductor, this is Colin.” That slight smile appeared again.
“Well, the next stop is Moor Street, which is the end of the line. I’ll open the barriers for you if you want to sneak off, but I’d recommend staying on and going back home. Your parents will be worried.”
I nearly thanked the conductor, but bit my tongue. I was far from ready to make a decision. I nodded at him and that seemed to be enough.
Colin’s large brown eyes fixated on my own and I felt a pang of responsibility. The doors opened and an announcement echoed through the train insisting that all passengers depart. I looked back at Colin, hoping he’d make the decision for me.
The conductor stood by the door, awaiting my choice. Ten minutes passed. The doors shut and the direction of the train changed.
Now it was my turn to smirk.