Settling herself as comfortably as she was able into a carriage seat not necessarily designed for comfort, the young woman idly contemplated the hurry and bustle on the station platform through the grimy window. Her hazel eyes saw, but didn't register on her mind, the ant-like quality of the activities of those whom she watched, her thoughts directed towards the pending journey and what lay at its conclusion.
The heavy lurch of the train moving jerked her from her reverie and a look of mild confusion crossed her pretty features as the carriage was pulled along the platform and out of the station. The steady clackety-clack of the wheels on the track settled into their familiar rhythmic beat as the train increased its speed. The young woman settled into her seat, resigned now to the journey begun.
Fumbling in a small leather clutch bag on her lap, her fingers located a roll of mints. Withdrawing the roll, her slender fingers removed one small sweet and slipped it between red painted lips and she savoured its flavour, a thoughtful expression on her face.
She squirmed in her seat in a bid to find a slightly more comfortable posture. Satisfied, she leaned her head against the headrest and closed her eyes, her mind reflecting on the person she was to meet at journey's end.
He was a man; a figure who had been a major influence on her early years. She pictured him as she's last seen him: tall and well-built, over six feet in height with broad shoulders and chest, a narrow waist and well-muscled arms. He carried himself with a militaristic air, though he had never seen service with any of the armed forces.
At all times, he was exquisitely attired; smart, pressed trousers with ruler-straight creases along the length of each leg; expensive tailored shirts with matching sombre necktie. His shoes were of the finest leather and always polished to a glossy, black sheen.
With his ramrod-straight back and imposing height and demeanour, he had the air of a bank manager or a senior civil servant or a managing director of a large and successful company, yet he was none of those. His business, she recalled, was as a travelling salesman, roving the country in pursuit of new customers and ever-larger commission cheques at months-end. She grudgingly had to admit to herself that he was good - very good - at his job, though she found it very hard to respect him for his success.
He was the type of man who commanded - and demanded - respect: respect with an upper-case R in front of the word. This was a man one automatically addressed as ’sir’ or ’Mister’. The relaxed intimacy of first names was subtly discouraged by the sheer aura the man generated. A smile twitched at the corners of the young woman’s mouth as she imagined the man’s wife introducing her husband as “Mr.”. Not for him to be reduced to the role of a mere partner to a woman!
His countenance was of one fully in control of his emotions. It was a handsome face, full of individually pleasing features: large brown eyes that could be so warm and friendly at times, which nestled below thick eyebrows. His nose was long and thin but entirely in proportion with his face. He had a wide, generous mouth full of immaculate even white teeth that was capable of forming a most charming and disarming smile when the occasion demanded. It was also more than capable of reducing one to tears with it’s cruel and cold sneer of disapproval and distaste. The young woman shuddered slightly at this unwanted memory.
His head was crowned with a thick mane of greying hair, predominantly black, neither too long or too short. Trimmed regularly, the woman wondered bitchily if he used a ruler to determine when it was next due another trim. That same near-smile twitched at her lips again as that thought flitted through her mind. Suddenly, hot stinging tears were tracing their way down her cheeks and she scrabbled in her clutch bag for a tissue with which to dab them away. She cursed herself for her weakness and she cursed him for reducing her to tears yet again as he had so easily been able to do so many times before. Yes, he was handsome, successful and wealthy, but he was cold. So damn cold!
She had tried to be all that he wanted her to be: all that he demanded and expected her to be. She felt that she was never, ever able to live up to his expectations of her and, eventually, when she could bear it no longer, she had fled his world and his aura that threatened to smother her.
That had been five years ago, five years in which she had discovered life and love and her own brand of success. They had been good years and, for the most part, happy ones. She had managed to shed the man from her life as a snake sheds its old skin and had emerged as her own person, living her life, her way. It had taken but little time for her to become the sort of person she always new she was once she was free of the shackles of expectation and away from his cloying aura. She had never been happier.
However, out of the blue two days ago, a telephone call had thrust him back into her life. It was not a request to come, more a command that brooked no argument, and she had unhesitatingly obeyed. She had rapidly rearranged her affairs so that her absence would cause the least disruption to her business. She had also revived memories that she had tried hard to repress for years. Now, as the train pulled into the station at which she was to disembark, she wondered if, perhaps, things were not all that much changed after all. She was also slightly shocked to acknowledge that, in spite of everything, she still loved him.
After the train had settled to a stop, the young woman rose on slightly unsteady legs and joined her fellow travellers waiting to leave the carriage. Stepping onto the platform, her eyes scanned the sea of heads, seeking his.
There! Over by the ticket barrier, facing away from the station. She recognised him immediately. Despite the passage of years there could be no mistake. Her heart began to beat a little harder, her breaths came slightly faster. She hefted her small suitcase in one hand and tucked her clutch bag under her arm and, with her ticket ready for inspection, she made her way to the exit.
The man turned, his eyes darting amongst the faces of the passengers leaving the station. She wanted to draw his attention, but experience had taught her that it would be entirely the wrong thing to do. In his world that would be classed as ’causing a fuss’, however innocent and natural such an act might be. Instead, she contented herself with looking at him as the line of people moved forward.
“He hasn’t changed much” was her initial impression: a little more grey in the hair, the same straight back and his imposing presence, perfectly dressed, of course. She sighed in disappointment and wondered why she had come.
She handed her ticket to the uniformed railway employee and exited the station. She covered the few yards between herself and the man. His eyes locked onto hers and she felt a familiar lurch in her chest as he examined her (for that was how it felt to her). No smile of welcome or pleasure upon seeing her cracked his lips, although she was quite certain that she detected a slight relaxing of the muscles around his jaw. She was equally certain that she had imagined it.
The young woman stood before him and, in a slightly tremulous voice, said “hello, dad”.