I boarded the train and immediately started coughing. I buckled over, coughing into my hand and retching up the dregs at the back of my throat. It was a painful experience that made it impossible for me to breathe. There was one other passenger in the compartment and he ignored me plainly, staring at his newspaper.
Eventually, the inevitable happened and I collapse onto all fours, coughing horribly. He finally looked up from the newspaper and decided to help me to my feet. He walked over held his hand out and I took it. I was pulled to my feet and he slapped my back suitably until the coughing stopped. I spat the vileness into a handkerchief I retrieved from my pocket and walked over to a free seat, nodding my thanks with some softer coughing.
The man nodded to me in turn and returned to his paper, eyeing me with a measure of concern, but it was fleeting. I contained my disgust as I stared at the blackish-blood that now spoiled the cloth a folded it neatly, tucking it away in my deepest pocket where it may not bother me. I rubbed the salt water from m eyes and took the steady breathes that I lacked upon boarding. The night felt like it was to be a long one, so I opened my brief case and opened the only book I brought with me.
It was a tale of mystery and investigation. A wonderfully intelligent detective was on the case with his trusted companion, a man who once was a medical officer in the War. A frightfully enjoyable read, although I must say that this ‘Holmes’ character is woefully egotistical. I read it almost unconsciously, falling into a state of quiet meditation, suppressing a cough or two ever couple of paragraphs. When that grew tedious I began imagining myself inside the book.
I was at the crime scene, observing the body. It lay on the ground, sprawled out in a manner that hinted towards the man collapsing. A quick observation of the body and I realized that there were no visible wounds, which meant that the man died from more clever means. I began to ponder the possibilities in the dimply lit room when I was woken up by the sound of my book hitting the train floor and a hard thump.
My eyes fluttered open and I immediately retrieved it, looking at the man who helped me up. He saw with his arms crossed, paper by his side, eyes closed, but not asleep. I believe he was imagining himself someplace as well, but realizing that it was rude to stare I decided it would be best to talk with him. After all, there seemed to be nobody else on the train and I longed for some decent conversation.
I waited until I saw him open his eyes before collecting my things and walking over to him. I raised my free hand to shake his.
“How do you do?” I asked politely. He stared up at me with tired eyes, but his pale body still had energy; he sighed.
“I am doing well, sir, but I must say you seem to concern me,” he replied, referencing my episode. I held up my hands and pulled a smile with now heart.
“Do not worry about me, it was a bad bout, but I assure you it is a sickness of my own doing. Too late did we learn how smoking affected our health,” I told him; my hand was still raised to shake his cautious one. Eventually he nodded in understanding and shook it simply as well as quickly.
I sat down beside him, minding the newspaper and tried to pull my greatest amount of charisma and confidence to start a conversation.
“I’ve been investing in all my life and the irony falls on my investments into tobacco,” I explained. “Here I believed that by purchasing tobacco from the same brand I owed shares in I would soon receive a portion of that money back!”
I chuckled at the ludicrous thought and so did the pale man with a sad smile.
“And you, sir, what is your profession in this age?” I asked simply.
“Tourism,” he replied with some steady nods. I eyed him and tried my best to picture him showing the French or worse, the Germans, where parliament was, but still, I wouldn’t know what was best suited for the profession. He just didn’t seem the right type.
“I see,” I murmured thoughtfully. “And how does that treat you?”
“It was taxing at first,” the pale man sighed with a more sincere smile. “With time I got used to the strain and soon found enjoyment in it. A delirious kind of enjoyment, maybe, but now it is nothing to me. Something I do from day-to-day.”
“I can imagine it being taxing; definitely, but at least you meet interesting people. Tell me, do you often…guide Germans?”
The pale man laughed as whispered the last few words.
“I do, indeed. You would be shocked to hear how many I had to guide over this recent decade.”
“Despite the war? That is odd…how many?”
“Millions, but twice as many British, although I doubt that will make you feel better.”
It was at this point that I was lost in his words. The pale man turned to face me and gave me a sad smile. His face was less tired, but more understanding. His face…it was so familiar to me and it scared me deeply. The train trundled onwards for only a few moments before it began to slow.
“I believe this is our stop,” the pale man noted. He stood up, collecting a paper I didn’t recognized and an umbrella. “Come now, Gerald, you have a new world waiting for you. Don’t fear what is to come; this is where you want to be and your parents wait for you.”
I stood up slowly, realizing only now that my coughing had faded to nothing. I stood breathing fresh, pure air. I began to collect my things, but I realized I could not bring my old world with me. I nodded to the pale man and shook his hand one more time. Knowing now who he was I want to ask him so many questions, but with single look he answered all of them. I thanked him as we stepped onto the platform.