Life as an independent contractor may be lucrative and rewarding in many ways, but it also attracts a habit of sacrifice and for me, loneliness.
On a train journey to London, several years ago, I watched the scenery flash by with sad and longing eyes. A girl joined me in the designated quiet section. I usually travel first class; enjoying the often deserted carriage. Any arrivals are noticeable. It’s curious to see who else is willing to pay more than double the value of a ticket — all for the sake of space, and some free crisps when the trolley passes through the car.
The stranger’s face mirrored my sadness. And for a split second, she looked at me with violet coloured eyes and a trembling, upturned mouth. I looked away as my empathic gift was too much for me. I could take my sadness and miss home without taking the pain and baggage of another person.
She didn’t speak, but her gaze haunted my journey. I wanted to leave my seat and move to coach A, but I was set up on my laptop and drink and two packets of free crisps. So my intentions and ignorance would have been too obvious here. I stayed, and while my loneliness wanted to ignore her, some other inner feeling wanted to reach out.
Despite having a goth image about her: piercings on her face and ears; the hint of a tattoo on her right arm; discrete blue hair extensions pinned within her black hair. It was all gentle and tasteful. She wasn’t a girl crying out, “Look at me!” No, it was someone saying, this is who I am.
I wanted to catch her gaze and smile, but I’m also quite a shy person. My brain was arguing with me to speak to her, ask her how she is, do something. Could sharing somebody else’s sadness help me cope with my own?
We travelled in silence.
She looked out of the window, as did I. But then I realised she wasn’t looking out of a window, she was leaving. She had made the most significant decision of her life and was leaving her family, her world for good. She was a voice crying out to me, but the voice silenced within a vacuum. She wasn’t on this train but was in another vehicle altogether, and that craft was taking her away from Earth.
She had no way to tell her family or friends why she must leave. To say a word would have been their demise. But behind this sacrifice was a plan. And for no reason I can fathom, she wanted to share this with me.
And so, the train arrived in Paddington after the usual delay in Reading. We still had not said a word, but as I stood, she stood. She even gave me half a smile. I stepped onto the platform and held the door open for her.
“Thank you,” she said with a bright, distinctive accent.
Her pleasant voice caught me off-guard, but I responded, “Hope you have a safe journey.”
She paused and looked at me. “You want to come with me?”
A wave of excitement blended with fear rippled through my stomach and coursed through my veins. Where was this stranger going? Why was I even thinking of saying, yes? Does she often ask strangers to travel with her?
“I don’t even know you?” I smiled and gestured a nod, to state I was up for this.
She held out her hand and said, “I’m Jayne.”