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The soft seat carriage

by BobBam about a month ago in family
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Miles was sitting in a first-class train car, traveling across France to visit his son in Strasbourg, where he was attending college, a son he hadn't seen in eight years. It had been eight years since Miles and the boy's mother had parted ways, and he and the boy hadn't spoken to each other once on the phone or even sent a postcard. Miles has always believed that it was his son's unkind interference that caused the couple's relationship to deteriorate until the final breakup.

The last time Miles saw his son was in the middle of a heated argument, when the boy lunged at him. His wife had been standing next to the sideboard, slamming china plates one by one on the dining room floor, and when she reached for a cup, Miles said, "Enough!" Just then, the boy lunged at him. Miles missed a step across the room and dodged him, pinning his head under his arm. The boy cried out as he kept hitting Myers with his fists on his back and rear end. Miles subdued him, and after subduing him, Miles still wouldn't let up. He pushed him against the wall and threatened to kill him. At that time he Myers was saying the real thing. He still remembers his shout, "I gave you this life, I can also take it back again!"

Remembering that terrible scene now, Miles shook his head as if everything had happened to someone else. But, to be honest, he is indeed not the same person as before. Now he lives on his own, and he doesn't touch almost anyone except his colleagues at work. At night, he listens to classical music and reads books about how to trap waterfowl.

He lights a cigarette and continues to stare out the car window, not noticing the man sitting by the door still asleep, his hat pulled down over his eyes. Early in the morning, the car window swept through the green fields of the morning mist. From time to time, Miles saw farmhouses and barns, all enclosed by walls. He suddenly thought that it might be a good way to live in an old house, surrounded by walls.

It was just after six o'clock. He hadn't slept since he got on the train in Milan at seven last night. When the train left Milan, he felt lucky that he was alone in the compartment. He kept the lights on, reading guidebooks and such, and wished he had seen the descriptions before he went to the place, not after. He found out a lot of things he should have been seeing and experiencing. This was his first, and surely his last, time to sightsee in Italy. Sitting on the train leaving Italy, he couldn't help but feel slightly sorry that he kept discovering bits and pieces of information about the country.

He put the guidebook in his suitcase, put the suitcase on the luggage rack overhead, took off his coat and covered himself like a blanket. He turned off the lights and sat in the dimly lit compartment, closing his eyes and hoping for sleep to come.

After what seemed like an eternity, just when he thought he was about to fall asleep, the train slowed down and pulled into a small station outside of Basel. It was here that a middle-aged man in a black suit and hat entered the compartment, said something to Miles in a language he didn't understand, and put his purse on the luggage rack. He sat down across from Miles, stretched his shoulders, and pulled his hat down over his eyes. By the time the train moved again, the man was asleep, snoring calmly in a way that Miles envied. A few minutes later, a Swiss steward pushed open the compartment door, turned on the lights, and asked for their passports in English and some other language - Miles guessed German - to read. The man who shared the compartment with Miles pushed his hat up on his head and blinked as he dug into his coat pocket. The steward studied his passport, scrutinized him, then handed him back his papers. Myers handed over his passport as well. The flight attendant read the information on it, examined the photo while looking at Myers, then nodded, handed it back to him, and turned off the compartment light on his way out. The man sitting across from Myers re-pulled his hat down over his eyes and stuck his leg outward. Miles figured the man would be right back to sleep, and once again, that made him envious.

After that, he couldn't sleep, and began to think about his meeting with his son a few hours later. What should he do when he saw his son at the station? Should he give him a hug? But it made him a little uncomfortable to even think about it. Maybe he should just gently reach out, pat the boy on the shoulder, and smile as if the eight years didn't even exist? Maybe the boy would say a few words--Good to see you, how was your trip? ── then Miles would say ...... He really didn't know what he would say.

A French steward passed by the compartment and took a look at Miles and the man sleeping across from him. Knowing that the Frenchman had already punched their tickets, Miles ignored him, turned his head, and looked out the window again. There were more homes, but the fences disappeared. The houses were small and crammed together. Myers immediately understood that it must be a French village. The fog was lifting. The train whistle whistled and sped past a junction. The barricades had been let down and he saw a young woman in a sweater, Òhair in her hair, pushing a bicycle, watching the train flash by.

Is your mother okay? That's what he might ask the boy after they've stepped out of the station for a while. Have you heard anything from your mother? At one point, it even occurred to him that she might be dead. But he immediately realized that was impossible, and if that were the case, he would have heard something -- and he would have known anyway. Miles knew that if he continued to think about these things, his heart would break. He buttoned up his shirt collar, straightened his tie, and set his coat on the seat next to him. He tied his shoes, stood up, stepped over the still sleeping man's legs, and walked out of the box.

On his way to the rear of the car, Miles had to hold onto the windows on either side of the corridor so he could stand still. He closed the narrow toilet door and locked it, then turned on the faucet and washed his face. The train suddenly turned a corner and threw an arc, but the speed was still so high that Miles had to tug on the sink to keep his balance.

A few months ago, he received a letter from the boy. The letter was brief, just saying that he had been living in France for the last year, attending a university in Strasbourg. Why he had gone to France, and what he had been doing in the years before he went there, the letter did not say anything. The letter did not mention the boy's mother, which Miles thought was normal, but her current condition and whereabouts would be unknown. However, what puzzled him was that the child was using the word "love" to end the letter. This made Miles think for a long time. Finally, he wrote back. After careful consideration, Miles wrote about how he had always wanted to go to Europe for a little trip. Would the boy like to meet him at the station in Strasbourg? He ended his letter with, "Love, Dad. He received a letter back from the boy and began preparations and arrangements. He was surprised to find that he really didn't need to inform anyone about his impending departure anymore, except for his secretary and a few business associates. He had six weeks of vacation time saved up at the engineering firm where he worked, and he decided to take advantage of the trip to use it all. Although he wasn't going to spend all of that time in Europe now, he was glad he had made the decision to do so.

He went to Rome first. After a few hours of walking the streets alone, he regretted that he hadn't joined a tour group. He felt lonely. He also went to Venice, a city he and his wife had talked endlessly about wanting to visit. But Venice disappointed him. He saw a one-armed man eating fried calamari and filthy, water-stained buildings as far as the eye could see. He took a train to Milan, stayed in a four-star hotel, and spent the night watching soccer matches on a Sony color TV until the show went off the air. The next morning, he woke up and wandered around the city until he had to go to the train station again. He planned that a short stay in Strasbourg would be the highlight of the trip, a day or two, maybe even three - depending on how things went there. Then, on to Paris, and then, a flight home, full of joy. He was tired of trying to make himself understood to strangers on the trip.

There was a knock on the bathroom door. Miles tucked his shirt into his pants, fastened his belt, opened the door, and staggered back to his compartment with the lurching of the carriage. When he opened the door, he immediately noticed that his coat had been moved and was not on the chair he had left it on. He felt like someone was playing a joke on him, but it could have been more serious than he thought. He hurriedly picked up his coat, his heart beating noticeably faster. He reached into the inside inner pocket and his passport was still there. The wallet was in the hip pocket of his pants. In other words, he still had his passport and wallet. What was missing was a gift he had bought for the boy - an expensive Japanese watch he had bought in a store in Rome. He had been keeping the watch in the inside pocket of his coat for insurance purposes. Now the watch was gone.

"Excuse me," he said to the man whose body was sunken into the seat, his legs sticking out, his hat over his eyes, "Excuse me for interrupting." The man pushed his hat back, opened his eyes, yanked himself out of his seat and looked at Myers. His eyes were huge. He might have been dreaming, but he also might not have been asleep at all.

Miles said, "Did you see anyone come in?"

But it was clear that the man couldn't understand what Miles was saying. He continued to stare at Miles, with a look in his eyes that Miles thought was inexplicable. But Miles thought there might be something else there, too. Maybe there was some kind of cunning and deception hidden behind that gaze. Miles shook his coat and put his hands in his pockets and tossed them up to get the man's attention. He rolled his sleeve up again, showing his watch to the other man. The man looked at Myers, and then at Myers' watch, and a puzzled look appeared on his face. Myers tapped the dial of his watch, and reached into his coat pocket with his other hand, making a fish-like search for something. Then he pointed at his watch again, wagging his finger in the hope of indicating that the watch had flown out of the doorway.

The man shrugged and shook his head.

"Shit." Miles cursed in frustration. He put on his coat and walked down the hallway. He couldn't stay in the box for a minute longer. He was afraid he wouldn't be able to resist hitting the man. He glanced around the corridor as if hoping he would run into the thief and recognize him at a glance. But there was no one around. Maybe the man who shared the compartment with him didn't take his watch. Maybe it was someone else, maybe it was the same person who knocked on the toilet door, who passed by the compartment, saw the coat and the sleeping man, opened the door, went through his pockets, took it by the hand and then closed the door and slipped away.

Miles slowly walked towards the rear of the carriage and looked at the other compartments. The first-class carriage was not crowded, but there were one or two people in each compartment, most of them sleeping, or at least looking like they were sleeping. Their eyes were closed and their heads were leaning back against the backs of their seats. In one compartment, a man about Myers' age was also sitting by the window, looking out at the fields. When Miles stopped and looked in at him, the man turned his head and gave him a stern look.

Miles walked into the second class carriage, the compartments in this section were much more crowded - sometimes there were five or six people in one, and a casual glance showed that the people here were all the more desperate. Many were awake - sleep is not comfortable, right - and as he passed, their eyes turned to look at him. Foreigners, Miles thought. Clearly, if the man in his compartment hadn't stolen the watch, then the thief could only have come from one of these compartments. But what could he do? There was no hope. The watch had been lost and was now staying in someone else's pocket. Nor did he expect to be able to make the French steward understand what had happened. And even if he could, what could he do? He returned to his compartment and saw the man stretching his legs again, his hat over his eyes.

He stepped over the man's lap and sat in his own window seat, dizzy with rage. Already on the outskirts of the city, farms and ranches gave way to industrial workshops, buildings with names he couldn't pronounce written on their fronts. The train slowed down. Miles could see cars running along the city streets, and some other vehicles lined up in long lines at intersections, waiting for the train to pass. He stood up, took off his suitcase, put it on his lap, and looked out through the car window at this abominable place.

He suddenly felt that he didn't actually want to see the boy. The realization took him by surprise, it was a bit shitty to venture that thought, and it made him feel ashamed for a while. He shook his head. Of all the ridiculously stupid acts in his life, this trip might just be the stupidest thing he had ever done. In fact, he had no desire to see the boy at all, long before the boy's behavior had alienated himself from Miles's feelings. He suddenly recalled with great clarity the expression on the boy's face when he had jumped on him, and a wave of bitterness came over Miles. It was the boy that had consumed Myers' youth, turned the young girl he had courted and married into a neurotic alcoholic, into a woman whom the boy both pitied and constantly threatened to intimidate. For what, Miles asked himself, did he have to come all the way to visit this person he hated? He didn't want to shake the boy's hand, the hand of his enemy, or tap him on the shoulder, or make small talk. He didn't want to have to ask him about his mother himself.

He sat bodily forward as the train entered the station. The announcement of the station in French came over the train's internal speaker. The man across from Miles began to squirm, and when another French announcement came over the speakers, he straightened his hat and sat up. Miles didn't understand a word of those announcements, and as the train slowed down until it finally stopped, he became more and more agitated. He decided not to leave the compartment, he planned to just sit still until the train started again. Then when the train started up again, he was on his way to Paris, and everything was just fine.

He looked out the window carefully, afraid he might see the boy's face in front of it. If that happened, he didn't know what he would do. He was afraid he would shake his fist. He saw a few people on the platform, wearing coats and scarves, standing by their suitcases waiting to get on the train. There were also a few people, without luggage, with their hands in their pockets, apparently waiting to be picked up. His son was not among them, which, of course, didn't mean his son wouldn't be waiting for him somewhere else. Miles took the suitcase off his lap, put it on the floor, and pushed it a little under the seat. \

The man across the table, yawning, looked out the window. Now he cranes his head and stares at Miles. He takes off his hat, scratches his hand through his hair, then puts it back on, stands up, and pulls his package off the shelf. He opened the door to the box and, before walking out, turned back and pointed to the station.

"Strasbourg." The man said.

Miles turned his face away and ignored him.

The man waited a moment longer, then stepped into the hallway, carrying the package and surely the watch, Myers thought. But that watch was the last thing he cared about right now. He looked out the window again. He saw a man in an apron standing in front of the station, smoking a cigarette while watching two conductors explaining something to a woman. The woman was wearing a long skirt and holding a child in her hands. They kept talking and she listened. One of them was gently teasing the child's cheeks. The woman looked down, smiled, moved the child a little and continued to listen.

On the platform close to her carriage, Miles saw a pair of young men embracing. Then the young man let go of the girl, said something, lifted the small suitcase, and got on the train. The girl watched him leave, her hand covering her face, and couldn't stop rubbing her eyes. A moment later, Miles saw her walk off the platform, eyes still kept on his carriage, as if in close pursuit of someone. He hastily scanned the girl and looked at the big clock hanging above the station waiting room. He surveyed the platform, and the boy did not appear in his sight. Perhaps he had overslept, or, like himself, had changed his mind. Either way, Miles felt relieved. He looked at the big clock again, and then saw the girl running quickly to the window in front of him. He leaned back, as if the girl was about to crack his glass.

The door of the box opened and the young man he had just seen outside walked in, brought the door with him and said, "Bonjour." (Original French) Without waiting for Miles to answer, he threw the small suitcase on the overhead shelf, stepped to the window, and said "Excuse me" as he pulled down the windowpane. "Mary." He shouted. The young girl cried and laughed. The man took the girl's hand upward and began kissing her fingers.

Miles twisted his head and clenched his teeth. He heard the conductor's last shout and the whistle sounded. The train immediately moved up and drove away from the platform. The young man had let go of the girl's hand, but still in the train swayed forward in the bump, and kept waving her hand.

Not long after, the train just outside the platform on the open space, Miles found it jerked to a halt. The young man closed the window and sat down in the seat by the door. He took the newspaper out of his coat and read it. Miles stood up, opened the door, and walked across the corridor until he reached the carriage connection. He didn't know why the train had stopped, maybe it was some kind of malfunction. He went to the window and saw nothing but an intricate track with train cars being reassembled above the track, disassembled from one train and hooked up to another.

He took a step backward, away from the window. The sign on the door of the next carriage said "push" (in French), so he punched it with his fist and the door slid open. Once again he was in the second class car. He walked past a row of packed compartments, people busy settling in as if they were preparing for their long journey. Miles wanted to find someone to ask where the train was heading now. When I bought the ticket, it said to go to Strasbourg first, and then to Paris. However, if you just poke your head into someone's compartment and say "Excuse me, excuse me" in French, or imitate the way some other locals speak, it would make people think he was asking if it was time to arrive, which would make him feel very humiliated. At that moment, he heard a loud clunk and the train fell back a little. He could see the platform again and thought of his son again. Maybe he was standing there right now, panting from the rush to the platform, maybe he was wondering where his dad had gone, if something had happened? Myers shook his head.

The carriage squeaked and groaned beneath him, and something grabbed something else and bit heavily into it. Miles looked out, the train had moved again in the maze of winding paths crisscrossed by tracks. He twisted around and walked briskly through the carriage, back to his own carriage, down the corridor, and back to his compartment. But the young man with the newspaper was gone, and so was Miles's suitcase. It wasn't even his old compartment anymore. He realized with a shock that just now his compartment must have been unloaded from the train and attached to the second-class compartment in front of him. The compartment in front of him was nearly filled with short, dark-skinned people speaking rapidly in a language he had never heard before. One of the men waved him in, gesturing for him to come in. Miles stepped into the box and people made a little room for him. An atmosphere of merriment seemed to fill the box. The man who had gestured to him earlier smiled and tapped the empty seat next to him. Miles sat down. The front of the car was behind him, and the fields outside the window flashed by faster and faster, flung far away from his eyes. For a moment, Miles felt as if the scenery was flying away from him. He knew that he was heading somewhere, but whether it was in the right direction, it would be a while before he knew.

He leaned back against the backrest and closed his eyes. People were still talking and laughing, and their voices sounded like they were coming from far away. Soon their voices merged with the rhythm of the train wheels hitting the tracks. Gradually, Miles felt himself wrapped up in the sound and fell into dreamland.


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