You Are Assessed for Repairs by Joe Williams

Hello, my name is Carriage Number 78464. How am I looking today?

That’s what it says on the sign over there. Have you seen it? I think it’s supposed to present a friendly face to the customers, help them to feel relaxed, at home. It’s not a very friendly name though, is it? They could have made the effort to name me after a famous person, or some sort of animal, but no, I’m stuck with Carriage Number 78464. How dull.

So, anyway, how am I looking? Am I clean? Am I tidy? Are all of my fixtures and fittings in working order? I think I’m looking pretty good, if that’s not too boastful. You’ve come at the right time. They did a good job of cleaning me up this morning. You should have seen me last night. What a mess! The last train back from Leeds on a Friday night, it’s always the same. Takeaway boxes and empty cans all over the place. Disgusting. But you’d never know it now, would you?

At least nobody was sick, and there wasn’t any blood. I get that more often than you might think. Some of that Friday night crowd look like they should be going to hospital, not getting on a train. The younger ones, usually, but not always. They even fight in here, sometimes. I wish there was something I could do to stop them.

That’s not the worst thing of all, though. Now and then someone makes a mess that’s a lot harder to clean up. The kind of mess not even the most industrial cleaning products could ever fix. Do you know the type of thing I mean? Do you remember? I remember you.

It was a long time ago now. Well before they put that sign up. I was always Carriage Number 78464, but you’d never have known it then. Not unless you were one of those trainspotters. I like them. They’re fun.

Where was it that you got on? Was it at Steeton and Silsden, like today? I wasn’t paying attention to you then. Not until later. It was a quiet night, I know that. A Tuesday, I think. She was already here. She’d got on at Skipton. By the time we pulled out of Crossflatts you were the only ones left. Just her, and you. And me, of course, but you probably didn’t think about that. I was watching you by then. And you were watching her.

How old was she, would you say? Thirteen? Twelve? Did you even ask yourself that question?

You stood up, and you walked over to her, and you sat down next to her, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I was watching everything you did. And I was listening. I heard what you said. You said, ‘Let’s play a game.’

I wonder where she is now. Do you? Do you ever think about her? I bet there have been others too, haven’t there? And I bet she thinks about you. About what happened, I mean. I bet she thinks about it a lot. I bet they all do.

You got out at Saltaire. Was that where you’d intended to get off, or did you decide to change your plans? You left her here on her own. Well, with me. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t cry. She just waited in silence, and got off at – well, perhaps I shouldn’t tell you where she got off. Didn’t say a word. I wonder if she ever has.

And now here you are again, after all these years. But this time it’s you who’s the last one here. And me, of course. Just you and me.

I know you can hear me. I know you’re pretending that you can’t. Am I making you feel uncomfortable?

Oh, did you want to leave? I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’ve locked the doors. I can do that.

Now. Let’s play a game.

Joe Williams is a writer and performing poet from Leeds. His latest book is ‘This is Virus’, a sequence of erasure poems made from Boris Johnson’s letter to the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. His verse novella ‘An Otley Run’, was shortlisted for Best Novella at the 2019 Saboteur Awards.