I caught the train by seconds that morning. My sister was already on board.
I missed the train by seconds that morning. My sister was already on board.
‘We will meet for lunch after the interview,’ we agreed, as we pulled out of the station.
‘We will meet for lunch after the interview,’ we agreed over the phone, as her train pulled out of the station. I would catch a later train.
The interview was for a job at the university: my dream job. My sister was there to offer her support.
The interview was for a job at the university: her dream job. I was supposed to be there to offer my support.
I was nervous, so we talked about everyday things: the weather; her new boyfriend; my new haircut.
She must have been nervous. I wish I’d been there just to talk about everyday things: the weather; my new boyfriend; her new haircut.
I felt as though a whole new chapter of my life was just beginning; as it turned out, I was right.
It was to be a whole new chapter in her life: as it turned out, the new chapter was all mine.
We rounded the curve as usual; but faster, I remember: too fast. Then came the jolt. And then: too slow. The action played out before me like a movie sequence in slow motion: I was catapulted through the air, felt the glass shatter as my head hit the window, but didn’t feel any pain. Then came the thud of impact as I was thrown out of the carriage. Then blackness: parenthesis, caesura – break.
The next train wasn’t due for half an hour. I was angry at myself for having missed it – how could I have let her down like this? I went to get coffee and cigarettes, to try and calm my jittered nerves. But the nervous feeling wouldn’t pass, so I tried to call her. Maybe by talking I could calm us both. But I couldn’t get through – it was strange, I thought, because there wasn’t even a ringtone. A dead line.
From out of the blackness, I heard voices: ‘the spinal column shattered…paraplegia…rehabilitation…possibly…a long road…’ I might have panicked, if I’d realised they’d been talking about me, but I’d lost all sense of space, and time, and self.
The nervous feeling in my stomach grew stronger; I knew that something wasn’t right. Then the sign for the next train flashed up: delayed.
It was days before I came out of the coma, fully. That was then they broke the news to me: I’d probably never walk again. And then the worse news: my sister hadn’t made it.
People on the platform began to get impatient. Irritably, they started asking questions, directed at no one in particular: ‘Why is there no information about the train?’; ‘Why doesn’t anybody know what’s going on?’ and so on. Others started expressing their God-given right to get to work on time, as though the whole world would stop turning if they didn’t make it. She didn’t make it off the train, I found out later.
It was days before I came out of the coma; weeks before I came to terms with my injuries; and years before I could accept that she had gone. Perhaps I still can’t. I’ve taken my first tentative steps with the help of leg braces and walking sticks. They tell me that I’m doing great, but they can’t see inside my mind, my heart. ‘If only’, I find myself asking, time and again: ‘If only the interview had been another day;’ or ‘If only I hadn’t had the interview at all;’ or ‘If only we’d missed the train.’ ‘If only’: such a futile phrase. But sometimes I console myself by thinking about the nature of reality, on a quantum scale, as best I understand it: that every possible event does happen, and every divergent event splits space and time. So she must be living, somewhere in a different version of our lives, in some other quantum universe. And above all, one thought gives me comfort…
It was hours before the news started to filter through; there’d been a derailment of the previous train. I found myself lost in a sea of angry commuters, who could only think about the inconvenience to their own lives, the disruption to their day. ‘What about my sister?’ I screamed, shocking them into silence. ‘She was on that train’ I explained to station staff as they escorted me to a private waiting area. Even though it took all day for them to find out anything, I knew she wasn’t coming back. It took years for the reality of it to sink in; life without her. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it’s ever really sunk in; if I’ve ever really come to terms with it. I have a strategy for coping: perhaps it’s silly but I imagine her alive in some parallel universe, one in which the interview had been another day, or we’d both missed the train, or even one in which I’d caught the train and died instead of her. I’d be happy to switch places with her, I think, and be the one who didn’t make it. Then I would wait for her in some undefined region, outside of space and time. I am waiting, always. And always, one thought gives me comfort…
We will meet again, when the parallel lines converge.
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