Creative Nonfiction

TRESPASSER ON THE TRACKS

16 March 2016

As I walk down the ramp inside South Yarra station, the air is muggy. The overcast sky has sealed the heat over Port Phillip Bay, making the crowded platform two feel like a glasshouse. The display showing ‘next service departing in three minutes’ suddenly flickers to ‘35 minutes’. Collective groans emerge from the commuters, myself included, as we huddle underneath the tin roof. It is Monday evening, 5:30pm, and no one is the mood for another public transport delay. Surely there were enough tram and train strikes last year for 2016 to be the year of no public transport disruptions? Five minutes later the display still shows 35 minutes.

Muffled announcements crackle from the loudspeakers. Their words are indecipherable over the screeches and whistle blasts of trains arriving and departing on the other five platforms. Some people exchange glances of incredulity. Others proceed back up the ramp, resorting to the trams and taxis on Toorak Road. I join the chorus of muttered expletives as the platform becomes ever more packed.

Finally the words of the announcements become intelligible, yet no more enlightening. One informs us that services have been suspended due to a ‘disruption’ at Gardenvale. Another blames an ‘incident’ in the North Brighton area. Schoolchildren, tradies and business people alike release exasperated sighs. Patience is not our strong suit.

Like a scene from a French New Wave film, it starts to rain. Glares are reciprocated as the crowd shuffles ever closer to the yellow line where the train will supposedly arrive. 20 minutes pass, slowly. The loudspeakers proclaim that the delay is due to a collision involving a ‘trespasser’ on the tracks. But this is largely ignored. Space underneath the tin roof has become prized real estate that demands our full attention. A train arriving in five minutes is announced and all on the platform are loath to miss it.

PTV apologise for the inconvenience caused by the ‘customer’ who has trespassed on the tracks. No elaboration is given on this customer’s fate, this being an apparently unimportant detail relative to the disruption of services. A man jokes with his colleague, “If you’re gonna fucking jump at least have the decency not to do it during peak hour.” A woman speaks loudly on her phone, expressing disbelief that this has happened to her again.

We push without shame to board when the train arrives. Each person’s appointment, be it dinner, yoga or a trip to the supermarket, is more important than anyone else’s. We all need to be on this train. The air conditioner blasts us with excessively chilled air inside the carriage. The smell is sweat-dampened bodies and soggy feet. The ‘sardines in a can’ cliché is an appropriate summation of our proximity and collective odour. But what of the culprit of our inconvenience? The person involved in the collision at Gardenvale or North Brighton, proclaimed a ‘trespasser’ by the loudspeakers. The person reduced to the description of ‘customer.’

The train terminates at Elsternwick. The normally spacious platform is swarmed with a sea of commuters as we alight from the carriages in unison. Loudspeakers crackle apologies at us again for the inconvenience of the delay, blaming a “fatality further down the line”. “Bit late now,” a man retorts at no one in particular, seemingly responding to the system. We shuffle under heavy clouds towards replacement buses. I look around for faces affected by the announcement of the fatality but the expressions are all grimaces and lowered eyebrows, bemused sneers and empty eyes. We shove our way past each other onto the bus, barking into phones or staring blankly at glowing screens. Us Melburnians have more important preoccupations than a fatality further down the line.


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