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Illustration by John Henry

 

Emanuel K had missed his stop. Hat over his eyes, en route to his job at the bank, he had fallen fast asleep the moment the train left off.

Jolted into consciousness, Emanuel snatched his satchel and dashed for the door at the next station, fearful of being late to work. Waiting impatiently for the train to stop, Emanuel tapped his foot over and over as the carriage pulled into the next station, . Again, the dragging wait for the light to flash above the door played on his patience, eager was to alight the train and catch a cab in the hope of making it to work.

But it seemed this would be denied to him.

A tall attendant, dark hair and surly moustache, as impeccably groomed as his pressed and cleaned uniform, held his hand before the door

“I am sorry sir, but you cannot get off at this station” he said impassively. Emanuel’s mouth fell open with a look of doubt. The attendant, Monsieur Jean by his nametag, had directly refused him leaving the train. Had there been some emergency he had not become aware of? When Emanuel pressed Monsieur Jean, who looked in no way French, he was told to simply to:

“Wait in your cabin for the time being, sir.”

Assuming nothing serious had occurred, Emanuel returned to his room and began the newspaper he had originally planned to read on the trip down.so to his newspaper. He had no way of contacting work about the train, and would have to explain his lateness as the result of a delay, or a particularly overzealous attendant who had putting his bags in the wrong compartment. One of them would see him suitably forgiven.

Again the train pulled off, but evidently no one had boarded either. Something must have been wrong with the station then? Renovation work, or repairs. He recalled one of the stations being scheduled for something like that earlier that month. They must have been mid-way through it by now then. Yes, that must have been it.

Emanuel heard the sound of the train’s horn again. They were nearing the next stop.

His worn, khaki suit felt stiff as he pulled himself peeled himself from the seat. The wait between stops was long, and his back felt as equally as inflexible as it did after a day in his cubicle. Emanuel pulled the sliding door open to the passageway, again it seemed he was the only person who wanted to exit. This did not surprise him, most rode this line directly into the city, and this was just a minor pause. The passageway was free even of the crew as he made his way toward the door. Activating the door, a familiar voice spoke.

“I am sorry sir, but you cannot get off at this stop,” spoke Monsieur Jean, whose sudden appearance and close proximity made Emanuel pull back his hand back in shock. Monsieur Jean now kept his whole body between Emanuel and the doorway, politely, but firmly, barring the way. A look of uncertainty, and even mild concern spread over Emanuel’s face, but Monsieur Jean was soon to console him with the words, “wait in your cabin for the time being sir”, repeating the phrase as before. Emanuel raised his voice to speak, before clenching his fist around his newspaper and returning to his cabin. He did not hear Monsieur Jean leave, though when he turned round again to demand an explanation, once more conjuring his courage in the hope of receiving an explanation, Monsieur had left the doorway, presumably returning to his duties aboard the trains other carriages.

The train rocked as it pushed on toward the city. There were scarce few articles left in the paper for Emanuel to read through now, limited now to advice columns and the personal ads, both areas he tended to avoid. The steady rocking of the train threatened to send him to sleep again, though the desire was staved off by the ever-increasing anxiety he felt as he moved further and further away from the bank. It was a commendable position, though with few prospects for higher employment.  The branches location and overall obscurity ensured the highest Emanuel could see himself rising was general manager, a man of modest hours and an equally modest salary.

A third time the train jolted to a stop, a third time Monsieur Jean barred his way. Taken with frustration, Emanuel attempted to occupy his time by visiting one of the other passengers with whom he shared this carriage. Shuffling past his cabin, he knocked on the door to its left. A sour voice answered back to him.

“Yes?” A woman — many years his senior — bid him inside her compartment. Clearly not one for travelling lightly, a selection of fold- out suitcases furnished her with everything she could need for an extended field journey, including mirror, iron, and washbasin. She sat meekly on the seat, as if her seemingly perfunctory frame merely hovered over the cushions rather than displacing them with any weight.

Her enviable collection of luggage was matched only by the wealth of jewellery she kept within them, much of it spilling over the sides as if she’d been unable to decide what to wear that morning and had haphazardly thrown them back in into drawers as one does with clothes when rushing for a party. She was a Dowagess, she explained, her voice harsh voice cracking as she spoke. Emanuel said little during the interaction, the Dowagess apparently quite content to spill her opinions at a moment’s whim, the deficiency of the cabin service, the length of the trip, all to her were equally detestable as they were topical. The train was deathly silent; and despite the soundproofing of the cabins, it felt as if they were the only two in the carriage, if not the whole train.

The Dowagess’ conversation droned on: “never free” she was, “now she could finally be herself,” she said. Emanuel increasingly desired the sound of the next train horn, unable to think of a polite reason to depart. Instead, frustration, a question quite simply burst out of him: Why could they not get off the train?

Before the Dowagess could answer in her sandpaper voice, the cabin door slid open.

A whirl of movement found a pair of lithe hands tightly gripping his arms. Sleeves pulled taut, he was spun back to face the carriage. Monsieur Jean stood straight-backed before him.

“I am sorry sir, but you cannot visit the private cabins of others,” Monsieur Jean rattled off. Emanuel K. did not protest, and chided himself for not predicting this outcome. He was held in place by two men — the train guards presumably — whose freshly pressed uniforms held a surprising stiffness as he was pulled up against them.

“Wait in your cabin for the time being, sir,” he heard Monsieur Jean calmly say as he was escorted back, the guards promptly opening the door and tapping him inside in one efficient movement, drawing the exterior blind as they left.

Sealed inside his cabin, Emanuel considered why he was continually denied exit. Nothing was mentioned of it in the paper, which, within the next few minutes, he would have succeeded in reading cover to cover in order to distract himself from the preposterous situation he was in.

Emanuel rhythmically tapped his foot against the bottom of his seat, reading through the statements for his late afternoon appointment, familiarising himself with the facts so that when he arrived, if he arrived, he could attempt to make up for lost time. It did not hold his focus for long. The situation on the train had become increasingly present in Emanuel’s mind, his thoughts over and over: what in fact could be going on? Was there even an issue outside? Was it something happening on board? One possibility sparked his mind. He had not looked properly into the other carriages, he was not sure if this was isolated simply to his.

He would find out.

Emanuel K. slid across the chair toward the door. He would ask, nay, demand an answer from this Monsieur Jean who continued to impede him. Emanuel burst into the hall, only to find it deserted.

Emanuel K. was awfully ambivalent about this fact. Initially brimming with purpose, such energy now deserted him. The emptiness left him on edge. The blinds were drawn to the dining carriage, leaving Emanuel no way of knowing if Monsieur Jean was there.

Emanuel K., however, had forgotten to check behind him. The sudden bump of another body against him sent a shriek from his lungs as he jumped around to face what had hit touched him.

Before him stood a short, pudgy looking man whose shirt sagged under the weight of an impressive collection of medals, bestowing upon him an air of authority that singled him out as the train’s captain. Flanked by the same two guards, and Monsieur Jean behind him, the Captain and his crew had effectively barred his way. The captains bearded chin lowered just enough for the words,

“I’m sorry sir, but you cannot change compartments” to flow familiarly from his mouth and into the ears of a disconcerted Emanuel K. The man’s honey-coated voice did little to calm him as the guards walked forward and promptly lead him back to his room, the Captain repeating that familiar phrase,

“Wait in your cabin for the time being, sir.”

So flustered by these events was Emanuel K. that it did not cross his mind that trains do not typically have a Captain. Thoughts swirled in his head. Surely such peculiarities could not be isolated to him alone.

Was it that the guards had a special interest in him, or was there simply some issue they refused to announce? Either way it played on Emanuel’s nerves.

The Dowagess, he would ask her as to his predicament, perhaps her position would make her privy to information he was not.

Stepping into the hallway, Emanuel’s head darted around. Satisfied the crew were out of earshot had moved on, Emanuel K. turned toward the Dowagess’ compartment.

Again, the girth of the train’s captain blocked his path, backed again by the silent guards and the implacable Monsieur Jean. He was not even surprised to see them this time. Emanuel heard no sign of the Dowagess in her compartment, no babbling to herself as last time. Angered, Emanuel K. listened to the Captain speak.

“I’m sorry sir…” Emanuel K. cut him off, he knew the rest.

“Wait in your cabin for the time being, sir” The Captain continued in that polite tone he imagined a diplomat would use during negotiations; exasperation behind a cordial façade.

Padding back into his cabin, Emanuel K. threw himself onto the seat beside the window, the familiar rattle of the tracks underneath rumbling through the walls. Emanuel had lost complete track of time now, his inability to leave the carriage leaving him lost within the walls. How far along the line was he now? What station would he be refused next? Emanuel’s arms shook with rage as he reached out to draw the blind.

His eyes darted up, a startling sight beheld him.

A hand, tight around the string held the blind in check over the window, plump fingers gripping its coarse length. Turning his face up, Emanuel K. noted the crew bending down across his window, bodies tightly packed into the cabin, who, from Emanuel’s lowered position, now seeming impossibly tall and impossibly wide. Weary of the coming words, Emanuel K. looked on in complete horror as the crew announced in unison.

“I’m sorry sir”

Emanuel screamed.

Lachlan Liesfield

The author Lachlan Liesfield

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