More Than Life

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

29th May 2015
More Than Life

YELLOW. The cab was yellow. Finlay was in Vancouver. He was 28. It was 1995.
The sun shone, but the traffic wasn't moving.
Finlay felt physically sick.
He had to get to the airport in 50 minutes.
Katherine's plane wouldn't wait.
He had to see her. Had to tell her what had happened before her plane took off. At that moment, it meant more than life itself.
The contrast when he first met her couldn't have been more stark.
She boarded the VIA Rail train in Canada's leafy Novia Scotia.
As the train slowly clanked its winding way slowly across a nation, they had days to get to know each other.
Nights spent in the dome car, tracking the stars.
Days sitting across from one another swapping tales of their lives, of growing up an ocean apart.
By the time they'd crossed the plains, through the Rockies, and emerged onto Canada's West Coast they knew each other as one.
Vancouver's Stanley Park the scene for lazy summer picnics, lying side by side, looking up into the perfect blue sky.
But it couldn't last. Time was ticking.
Soon she had to go back east to start a new job in Toronto.
He had Vancouver Island to explore on his extended summer break.
It seems stupid now. Why didn't he abandon his plans and go with her?
But back then he was more inflexible. He could never see a different option, let alone take it.
A young man of inaction. Focusing on the negatives. All part of preserving his heart after his first, he'd hesitate to say, love, used, and as good as abused, him.
No time for him to go into all that now. But he knew he'd never be the same.
Katharine was different. Open. Equal. Loving. They were on each other's wavelength. They laughed so much despite being born worlds apart.
He'd got back into Vancouver the day she was due to leave.
Suddenly he had to see her and explain.
But the traffic was going nowhere. The clock on the cab was ticking, the airport was no closer.
After another 20 minutes, heat rising, Finlay's temper fraying, the driver slid back the partition, there'd been an accident, the route was blocked, all diversions were choked. The game was up.
Finlay's very being, not just his heart, was broken.
He got out of the cab. Sat on a bench. Pulled out a photo from his wallet. And at 4.30pm as Katharine's plane was due to take off, he bowed his head, clasped it in his hands, and sobbed.
He'd had the world, life itself, on offer. He just needed to reach out and grab it.
But he'd been too slow, too indecisive. And then it was too late.
He'd not had chance to tell her what had happened. How his world had turned upside down. How we was now ready and free to join her in her new life.
Katharine had laid it on the line. Told him if he wasn't at the airport, not to bother contacting her again. She'd waited too long.


PINK. The taxi was pink. It stood out amount amid the grey, the rain, the black, the cabs, the beige, busy people, heads down heading home from work.
A splash of colour. A splash of hope.
Finlay, 48, dashed across the road, almost mown down by the London bus, blasting its horn. It was worth the risk. More than life itself was at stake.
His feet slipped on the wet Tarmac, his body slammed into the side of the pink taxi. Within seconds he was sitting on the back seat, and the driver was irritating the heavy traffic further with his swinging U-turn.
Finlay was panting so hard. His heart was banging. He hadn't felt anything like this since Vancouver, a full 20 years earlier. In fact he hadn't felt exactly like this ever before.
He pulled out his phone. Saw the message from Lindsay. Her smiling face. And tapped on the message he'd received earlier in the evening. "See you at Euston at 9.10pm. Be there."
He flicked through his other favourite photos. Them both lying in the field looking up at the blue sky.
It reminded him of the skylarks, the soundtrack to their summer, signing high above them, life, nature, love, so joyful and uncomplicated.
The taxi jolted. Reminded him he was not in the clear yet.
Minutes earlier he had been frozen by fear.
Fear of not grabbing onto life. Fear of a lifetime of inaction, weighed down by doing nothing, rooting him to the spot, filling his shoes with lead, and his heart with stone.
He hadn't known which way to turn.
He wasn’t even sure where he was.
He was in an underground station, that was about the sum of it.
But now, more than ever, he needed to act.
He looked on the map on the wall behind.
Cannon Street Station was writ large.
He looked at the map.
Yellow. Circle Line. Hammersmith via Liverpool Street to Euston Square.
Not Euston. But near enough.
At least that's how it looked on the map.
But the tube trains arriving slowly into the station, seemed to take an eternity. Not thundering in like they did in the middle of the day.
This was mid evening. The platform was almost deserted.
Just as Finlay needed urgency. Just as his very life depended on the city beating its fastest, the trains snaked in slowly, almost apologetically, as if on some country siding to nowhere. A voice on the tannoy droned indistinctly in some slow message.
Finlay felt like he was trapped deep in some sinister cave, on a parallel line, a parallel universe.
Even if his train did arrive, he envisaged some laughing cartoon-style clown in the driver's seat ridiculing him for his hope, for foolishly daring to dream. It was the stuff of nightmares.
Adding to Finlay's rising air of panic, he felt he was circling on a never ending loop, like old vinyl, stuck in a dischordant groove, as if Del Amitri's Nothing Ever Happens, was stuck playing out over the jarring tannoy.
To add to the agony each train slowly spilling into the station spelled out Upminster.
He didn’t want Upminster. He wanted Hammersmith. Not to relive his youth where he’d partied at concerts as a carefree student.
But to catch the last train north, to finally leap into action, embrace what was right out in front of him, fear nothing, laugh in the face of ridicule, and grab his chance, surely his last chance, at happiness.
Miss it, and only a repeating loop of darkness lay ahead. Catch it, and he could at last embrace the light.
The red sign said there was one train going to Liverpool Street. But that was nowhere near far enough for Euston.
And even that wasn’t arriving for another four minutes.
Four minutes. Did he have four minutes?
He looked at the map behind him.
There were numbers next to each station.
It was like some exam question coming back to haunt him. Like some higher power playing some sort of sick quiz where there was only going to be one winner.
Euston Square, 21 minutes.
It was 8.50pm. His train. The last train. North. 9.10pm.
And the tube train wasn’t due for another four minutes. He didn't need GCSE maths to know the numbers didn't add up.
Trying to predict the future, he imagined what would happen if he stepped on the train. It would snake and screech, its agonising way through the network of curving tunnels and by then his fate would have been sealed. He would be trapped inside the metal tube.
That imminent feeling of claustrophobia, that panic, had the sweat starting to run down his face.
In that split second, a rare moment of clarity of thought, his mind was made up.
Before he knew it he was leaping up the stairs of the tube station.
Minutes later he was on the back seat of the pink taxi. The initial diagnosis from the cab driver was 50/50. "Depends on the lights" was all he would commit.
Finlay plucked the last £20 notes from his wallet. "Get me there you can have all the money I've got," he pleaded. Never one to use his influence, or money, this was different, this was now life and death.
Motivated by his small windfall, the driver obliged, weaving this way and that, turning the cab sharply 90 degrees to criss-cross the capital and avoid the clogged up main routes.
With less than five minutes to spare the cab came to an abrupt halt. "Cut through that park, cross Euston Road, and you are there my friend," said the driver.
Finlay stuffed his phone into his pocket, handed the driver all his cash, grabbed his bag containing all his treasured possessions, thanked the driver as if he'd saved his life, and made a dash for it.
He sprinted through the park, rounded the corner at the other end, almost knocking over an elderly man in the process, and, despite the red pedestrian sign, only had eyes for the big station sign on the other side of the road, and headed straight out into the middle of the road....
Lindsay didn't hear anything. Too far away from the traffic to hear any impact. Too close to the train departing to hear the sirens when they arrived.
All she knew was she had waited. And he hadn't come. She always knew he didn't have the courage.
It was only later that night, when the police recovered Finlay's phone, that she received the officer's call, with the worst of bad news.
It meant more than life to her.
Finlay Donaldson had lived life twice. He'd noticed what others never saw. He'd been in the moment while those around him sleepwalked through life. Only hours before that final fateful night he'd sat on a bench by London's Tower Bridge. He'd looked up at the sky through the underside of the green leaves on the tree-lined avenue by the Thames. He'd noticed the body language of all those around him, from the false laughs of the corporate party, wafting over from the terrace by the Tower of London behind, to those stopping for the briefest selfie in front of Tower Bridge, another one ticked, before marching along the riverbank. He'd watched the boats, and the clouds, and the birds. He'd slowed it all right down. He'd talked to the woman who came to sit down on the same bench on his right. They swapped stories. They laughed. It emerged, that although until so recently they'd been complete strangers, they'd got a whole life in common. In that moment he was happy. And to him that was worth more than life, twice over.