The Runaway Train
The Inner Child Within
The Runaway Train
1.The Little Moments:
Disconnected. That’s how she felt. She awoke to the clatter of the train rushing over the tracks beneath her head, as if it was trying to escape her. Her soul felt heavy and her head fuzzy. She had no idea how long she’d been here or where “here” even was.
Pushing herself up onto her elbows she saw the world blur past her. She moved to swipe at the condensation on the train window with her forearm and made a little round hole in which she pressed her face up against. The cool glass made her head feel less fuzzy.
Looking round the carriage she found she was in a Night Sleeper – the bunks were all full of blankets she didn’t recognise and now she was slowly taking in her surroundings she heard the distant hum of jazz music, feeling curious she got up and slid open the door, stepping out onto the hallway carpet.
Walking down people waved, “Hi Elsie!”, “Morning Elsie!”, “Make sure you get pancakes El!”. People seemed to know her here, she felt a bit déjà-vu about the whole situation, like she’d been here already.
She followed the corridor down and found the train opened out completely into a full-board canteen. The chefs were smiling and dancing, the people eating were happy and everyone was bobbing their head or tapping their toe to Elsie’s favourite song – Frank Sinatra, Anything Goes – and the heart-warming joy of being surrounded by likeminded people made Elsie feel like she’d been reborn.
2. The Canteen of Memories:
She immediately noticed the stack of pancakes in the far corner of the canteen and made a beeline – whoever said to get the pancakes earlier was perfectly in their right mind, she thought. She got to the chef serving and he locked eyes with her, “Top of the morning to you, dear Elsie”. “Good morning to you…” she said back, still unsure why everyone seemed to know her here. He started stacking up her plate with pancakes and her favourite toppings, she hadn’t even mentioned what she would like, this chef could mind-read clearly. He made some small-talk and Elsie politely discussed the morning sunshine and he said how nice it was to be alive on days like today. Elsie thanked the kind-eyed man for the pancakes and went to sit down at one of the empty tables before a little girl tugged at her arm and pulled her over to one which was full.
She sat down next to the little girl, and everyone stopped their conversations, “embarrassing” Elsie thought to herself and then the little girl spoke for the first time. “Elsie is finally here!” she squealed, almost bursting with excitement. Elsie felt even more awkward now as everyone in the canteen applauded and she felt more and more like they had got her mixed up with another Elsie entirely.
3. Gabrielle Leaver:
After everyone stopped cheering, Elsie leaned over to a very stylish lady sitting next to her, eating a fruit salad (obviously given how petite she was she wouldn’t be sitting in front of a stack of pancakes like she was). “Good morning, I am sorry, but I really don’t know why I am here and why everyone knows me”, Elsie mumbled, she felt silly and as if she had had Alzheimer’s her whole life. The stylish lady chuckled to herself, “Oh we know you don’t, we all do Elsie, that’s why it’s nice you’re here”. Elsie’s head started to spin again, what an earth was she doing here and what was this place? The lady clearly saw Elsie’s uncomfortable expression flash across her face, and she cleared her throat. “You see, El, this train is actually going nowhere…you are on the Runaway Train, you’re running away from yourself and here we are in your imagination with you, it’s you that decided where the train stops, who gets on and off and what is on offer here”. Elsie was shell-shocked. How can something so real be so fake at the same time she thought to herself.
Feeling a little woozy, she tucked into her pancakes and then asked the lady what her name was, “Gabriella Leaver” the lady introduced herself as, and she went round the table; the little girl was called Mary, the gentleman next to her was Alfred, his wife was named Sarah and so on. She explained that all these people knew Elsie already, from her home, the one she is running away from currently.
Elsie was starting to realise that this was her imagination – the train wasn’t real, it was a dream train. Gabrielle explained that sometimes when people feel overwhelmed the brain takes them somewhere to remind them of what makes their soul happy, one little moment at a time. Elsie looked round at the people she had met before. She realised she did recognise them, one by one and the feelings she had when she crossed paths with them.
Mary, the little girl with the candy floss at the beach when she was feeling suicidal. Elsie remembered she’d driven herself to the coast with the thought of jumping over the metal fencing that day and ending it all. She had had a really bad week, her boss hadn’t valued any of her suggestions to make the sales targets expected of her, she felt underappreciated, overworked and underpaid. Story of her life. Elsie had decided she didn’t really want to be alive anymore, she liked some aspects of her life, she liked going to cafes on the weekends and sipping good coffee whilst watching other peoples world go past, she liked making cakes and the process of things turning into something new and pretty, she liked the beach, mostly because it was the end of something and that was a nice feeling to be at. But she didn’t like anything enough to wake up tomorrow morning and go back to work and be underappreciated again so off she went, she didn’t leave a note, she didn’t think she needed to upset her friends like that. She parked down one of the lanes that didn’t need parking tickets – she didn’t have enough money to pay for the coastal parking for an evening, let alone for life. As she walked down the promenade she looked at all the people, she wondered how many of those people felt as sad as she did, probably none of them, she felt totally alone.
Before she turned off the promenade she passed the candy floss van, she looked at the queue and then her attention was turned to a little girl next to the van. The candy floss she was holding was larger than her little face, she had rosy cheeks and was beaming at Elsie. Elsie felt a pang of guilt for doing what she was about to do, the little girl didn’t know and wouldn’t ever know, but Elsie felt as if the smile from this little girl was contagious, and she turned on her heels and got in the candy floss queue. The little girl went, her mother’s voice fading in the distance as she said “Come on Mary, lets go find a good spot to enjoy the sun.” and Elsie did the exact same. She didn’t throw herself off the cliff that day, she simply sat and ate candy floss and enjoyed the sunshine and that little girl, Mary, may have saved her life that day, purely from the simplicity of a smile.
5. The Candy Floss Stick:
Elsie thought about how life is like a candy floss stick – you start off in life innocent and open to everything that life is going to throw at you, like the wooden stick. Then, slowly, as you grow up and become an adult you get things stuck to you, like candy floss, sometimes enjoyable and sugary pink, but sometimes some things are slightly irritating and hard to remove. She thought about the process of making candy floss as the man whipped and caught the clouds of pastel around her stick, and how trying to catch the nice big bits is just like life itself – you try and catch the good bits of life before they fly past you in a blur.
Finding herself back in the here and now, finishing off the last of her pancakes, she looked across the glossy table and tried to remember how she knew Alfred’s weathered face. The stylish lady beside her saw her frown, “it’s okay if you don’t remember right now” she said. Elsie felt a little disorientated that she could read her mind again, however, almost relieved she understood too. “The thing about your imagination is that you pull the best bits from life to make the moments good,” she explained, “sometimes, however, when we grow up we get so caught up in this adult life that you end up missing the small moments, like candy floss melting on your tongue, or the sun on your face, these are the good moments,” she continued, “the problem with being an adult is that you forget your inner child and the happiness of being in the moment because you are taught to always be pushing to achieve more, to do more, to be more, when really all you need to do is enjoy being alive”.
Elsie understood more than she ever did what life was about, it wasn’t about being stressed at work, it wasn’t about the number of zeros on your pay packet. It was about pancakes in the morning, music that makes your toes tap, sunshine on your face and smiling at strangers to spread the happiness to those that you don’t even know need it. The train had no sign of stopping but she was too content to worry anymore. Life was good. She was happy.
She got up and popped her plate on the trolley which had appeared near her, never having noticed it before. She excused herself from her imaginary friends and walked to the “Exit” door. Wondering whether this meant the exit from the train, the exit from her imagination or the exit from the canteen itself. Although, she didn’t wander long because as she stepped towards it, the door opened and for as far as she could see was wildflowers and the smell of freshly cut grass.
Elsie knew now that she was probably asleep or just in her subconscious, but she hoped she’d remember this morning and feeling of pure joy and spread it when she had moments back home. She hoped that she’d remember the inner child within and how the simplest parts of life are usually the happiest and now it’s acceptable to have bad days but to remember that they are just feelings, and not life itself.
8. The Wildflowers:
Elsie sat for a while in the meadow, she listened to the woodpeckers in the trees ahead, she watched the butterflies flutter in and out of the long grass. She knew she’d probably wake up soon. She closed her eyes and settled, basking in the sunlight, and wanted to stay in this forever.
She could still hear the rattle of the tracks beneath her, the train was clearly still running, and she tried to think of the positives within her current life and what there was to go back too. She thought about her job, and how it was only a job, it paid her bills, it let her do all the things she liked doing which was really a pleasure. She thought about her family and friends and how special they made her existence, she thought about the surprise party she was thrown at the beach when she was in her twenties, how wonderful it was that these people had chosen to celebrate her trip round the sun and keep it all a secret for her happiness.
She was lucky, and, for the first time in her life she felt it too.
Alarm blaring at her, she sat bolt upright in her bed, the fresh sheets stuck to her back and she realised she was back in reality – whatever that was – in her little apartment on the north side of Cambridge. She could hear the trains, the early morning commuters already on their 3rd coffees rushing about the train station, busy in their own realities, not breathing or noticing the life slipping around them.
Elsie that the world was so full of lives and people and their stories, she was insignificant but also so significant to those that knew her. She got up, made herself a coffee and sat on her favourite spot on the windowsill (something she never used to do as she wasn’t allowed but now found deep delight in purely for that reason).
She thought about her Runaway Train and realised that she didn’t want to run away, she didn’t want to run away from life, she just didn’t want to be living the one she was in. She thought about what she wanted to change, who she wanted to be, and thought how, being herself, she actually didn’t know herself at all. She had been so busy trying to do what she thought was the aim in life, what everyone, it seemed, perceived life to be - good career, get on the property ladder, get a pension, have savings - that she had been depressingly unaware of the fact that all of that was absolutely not what would bring her joy at all, and in fact that the societal claims of being "set" in life were actually just the basis of a very boring existence.
She jumped off the windowsill after the last dredges of her coffee were sipped, popped over to the craft drawer she stuffed with the odd shell from her beach trips, sea glass and dried flowers she collected from her walks around the parks in the city. She rummaged around and found a notebook, the notebook that she had started learning French in from a mobile app, the one with all her little notes and thoughts in from when she was originally trying to “find herself”.
She knew now that finding herself wasn’t the goal, she found herself every morning when she woke up. The goal was to be more aware of the little things. A little more aware of the inner child and the moments of joy in the everyday processes, she thought about where she wanted to be this time next year, and all the options she had. The world was at her fingertips, she just needed to remember to use it and explore it. No one got anywhere by being stagnant, and no person ever will do, life is like water - it should continually flow, like waves at the beach, in and out, through the rough patches and onto the breezy shores of many different soils, just like waves, she wanted to touch different soils, meet different people and experience different cultures.
She wrote on the first blank page:
"Don’t forget to live by trying to achieve life, Elsie, the movement of waves is the most powerful part".
“How silly” she thought, that it had taken this long to realise that the goal in life was simply to enjoy the moments within as much as humanly possible before the wave crashes and its gone forever.