Station To Station

Entry by: Nutcracker

24th July 2015
"Apparently Hell really does freeze over," said Margaux. "I'm going to go there."

Helena gave her a quizzical look. Margaux had been behaving erratically for weeks, which was not surprising in the circumstances, but Helena was bemused as to what this impulse was about.

"Going?" she asked. "Where in the world is Hell?"

"Yes, going," replied her sister with an impatient little gesture. "Why shouldn't I? There's nothing to keep me here now."

Margaux knew that the only way forward for her was to travel. She'd thought of a pilgrimage of some kind, perhaps walking one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, but doubt and hesitation stopped her every time. Then she'd heard about someone who had travelled by train from Hell to Heaven and knew immediately that it was what she'd been looking for.

"Hell," she told Helena, "is a town about four hours north of Oslo. It freezes over for three months of the year, but you can go from there by train all the way to Thessaloniki in Greece. I don't know where the place called Heaven is exactly, but I'll find it when I get there."

Ten days later Margaux was sitting in a train heading south from Hell, talking to a stranger about what had happened to Toby, her son, her beautiful lost boy. The man looked nothing like Toby, but there was something about him which reminded her of her son, something which drew her towards him and which made her trust him, even though she knew nothing of this man, nothing at all.

At Oslo they changed together for Gothenburg, and so on through Sweden, Denmark and Germany. The days went by for Margaux as if in a different world, as if tragedy had not touched her and as if she really could get away from hell.

At Hamburg the man, who told her only that his name was Simon, said that he had appointments, but that if she cared to wait they could perhaps continue on their journey together. Margaux found herself saying that she would do this. They booked into a hotel together - separate rooms of course, this was not a romance, neither of them was looking for one - and Margaux went sightseeing with an easy heart. There was nothing in Hamburg to remind her of her son. Germany was as foreign a country to her as she could wish to find, and the past did not, for that brief time, seem to exist. She drifted from gallery to cafe, wrote a postcard to her sister and slept, long and peacefully.

Two days later Margaux and Simon boarded the night sleeper to Vienna. Curiously, neither had felt the need to tell the other of their final destination, and nor had he asked more about her life, or she of his. They were, as it were, held in a mutual suspension from both the past and the future.

In Vienna Spring was fresh-minted, there were strains of violins from upper windows and they strolled arm in arm as if they were in love, which, they each repeated internally, they were not. From Vienna it was twenty hours to Budapest, the Dacia express through Hungary and Romania. Simon had been there before and showed Margaux signs of the history of Buda on one side of the river and Pest on the other, the bullet holes of old wars.

"We all have old conflicts, don't we," he said, and his voice betrayed an emotion into which she knew better than to pry.

Only then, on the last stage of her journey, did Margaux dare to enquire of Simon where he was heading.

"Mount Athos," he said. There is a place there, just outside the gate, called Ouranoupolis. It means the city of heaven. I will show you."

Margaux told herself, quite firmly, that she must not fall in love with this man. It was too soon, she was too raw from the death of her son. But as they embarked together for the last stage of the journey to Thessaloniki, where they would leave the railway, she knew that she too was heading for a kind of heaven, and that she would be foolish to deny herself another chance of happiness, even though she could not tell whether it would last days, weeks or years.

"When we reach Ouranoupolis," she said, with a little inner frisson at daring to use the word we, "remind me to send a postcard to my sister. I need to tell her not to expect me home for a while."

And Simon, who understood perfectly, and was himself amazed that life had presented him too with another, quite unexpected and till then unlooked-for chance of happiness, nodded, smiled and leant forward across the train carriage to kiss his new love.