Empty Carriages

An extended metaphor that describes the journey to overcome coming of age issues

“This is the 11.59 train to London Victoria calling at puberty, stress, despair, depression and Meopham” – because nothing’s worse than Meopham.
Unfortunately for me there’s been a large hold up at puberty, leaves on the track apparently, and don’t I bloody know it. Years of walking around at a mere 5″2, with a whistle-like shriek of a voice has done nothing for my social life – I’m the rail replacement service of high school.
Then one summer, it hit me like tonne of bricks, a growth spurt of 11inches and a voice as deep as an abyss saw me promoted to first class – suddenly people wanted to know me, heck I was even surprisingly good at handball. No longer the little rag-tag scrag of school, was I?
We whistled through to Stress Station, the most populous of them all, with the shrill of crying babies ringing in my ears, as I tried to gain some sense of focus, of inner peace and tranquility in the run-up to my GCSEs. “The most important time of my life”, at least that’s what teachers kept ramming into my head and for some stupid reason I chose to believe them.
Sure, they’re important but if Steve Jobs can create the iPhone from little-to-no qualifications then what does it matter if I get a B not an A*. The psychology of a grammar school being that anything other than top marks is a representation of failure is enough to derail even the most stable of minds.
The next stop was despair, the complete and utter desecration of any hope that remained within my soul – to hit rock bottom requires one of two things ; a sudden life-changing, earth-shattering event to come along and completely sweep you off your feet or, a constant, repetitive, drone of negativity that results in a loss of faith.
As so often in life, despair is quickly followed by a spiral into depression and, sure enough, the conductor had read the script. This was also the moment where a plethora of people decided that this was their stop, their moment to depart.
Here I was, then, in an empty carriage. Staring out the window, looking at the blur of trees as we sweep past them, contemplating the sheer meaning of life. A mind full of “what if’s?”, only looking back at the past without a view for what still could be.
That carriage stayed empty for a long time. Well, devoid of any human presence anyway – I kept it full of little mental demons.
Not empty by choice, empty through circumstance.
People would walk through the vestibules, take a cursory glance, maybe even sit down for a minute or two but sooner or later they’d decide to move on; they’d remember that they’ve got something else to do; they’d politely make excuses.
They felt awkward.
Suddenly I was a different person because of a word. Actually, because of a stereotype that society attaches to that word.
If I was alone because of something I’d done, I’d understand that, but not purely because of an additional adjective in my biography.
Yet still in my mind persisted that mild curiosity that kept me breathing, curiosity about life, curiosity about anything that I could convince myself would make me better, make me what society would call “normal”.
Inane curiosity that came in the form of Meopham, the ninth stop between Herne Bay and London Victoria. I had no interest in Meopham but my mind made it a playground for everything I could dream up – the steep hills, the graveyard, the battered station sign, it all seemed to represent my life up until that point.
To all intents and purposes Meopham should have been a pit-stop, nothing to me, but I found myself often drifting back to this undiscovered world that could be so much more than first impressions would suggest.
That rang true for people as well as places, the almost instantaneous need, desire, to judge someone and label them irreversibly is one that is universal but when you manage to dig a little deeper. you can find something with which you can connect in almost anyone or anything.
And over time that carriage got less empty, by no means a hive of activity, but enough to keep the negative clatter in the background.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get the 11.59 to London Victoria from time to time, I think we all do, but it’s not half as lonely a journey as it used to be.

Oliver McManus

Guest Contributor

Student at Canterbury College.