Annie was at the Moncton train station three hours early, but that was okay. Better to be there. Her brother-in-law had driven her from St. John. Her sister was supposed to have brought her, but she fainted twice and was rushed to the hospital. Annie had fainted too but she wanted to get home. She had a cute little apartment outside of Quebec City. It cost $1,100/month, two meals a day included.
She'd been visiting her two sisters in St. John. One had Parkinson's. The other sister--the one who'd fainted--had beaded four beautiful paintings for Annie's birthday. One was of a castle in moonlight, another of two ponies in pink and blue. The beads shone prettily. Thousands of beads in each painting! Her sister had to use tweezers to thread the beads.
Annie unrolled the paintings to show the two people from Montreal who had also come early because he had to check a bicycle. She told them about her sister and that she had fainted too, once when she was still at her sister's house and again in the car, but it didn't matter. She wasn't afraid to die. Maybe she had cancer or maybe there was something wrong with her heart. She would go to her doctor in Quebec City when she got home. She was going to pin the pretty beaded paintings on her closet and her apartment door. She liked everything to look nice.
Before she'd come on this trip she had her legs and eyebrows waxed and her pageboy wig washed. She wore rings, bracelets, necklaces--and her short red dress so that people could see the tattoo that curled around her calf. She was 74 years old and still had great legs. She wasn't so steady on her feet, even with her cane, and had chosen her red Mary Jane shoes. She couldn't wear heels anymore. Her brother-in-law didn't like that she fainted in the car but what could she do? He'd brought all her bags inside and left them on the floor in front of the Baggage Check. All she was going to take on the train was her purse and the beaded paintings.
Monsieur, she called when she saw a man behind the Baggage Check counter, but he said he wasn't ready yet. She knew he wasn't but it was good to let people know you were there. The Montreal fellow carried her bags to the counter for her. The Baggage Check man said there were too many and she had to pay $80. She would gladly pay but she didn't have that much cash and she didn't have a credit card. Okay, the man sighed, I won't charge you. Let me kiss you, she said, but he said that was all right.
She watched to make sure he put tags on all her bags. She told him about fainting that morning. When he finished, she asked if he could keep her paintings behind the counter because she wanted to go the shopping mall across the street. He said, I thought you don't have money. She ignored that because it was rude.
When she returned, there were more people in the train station--and they would be there for a while yet because the train from Halifax was late. On the overhead there was an announcement that they still had to wait for more than an hour!
Jim was excited about setting off on a trip and didn't like how people looked unhappy about the train being late. One lady said she'd booked a sleeper, which was expensive, and meals were included--and when was she going to get her supper now if the train came too late? Hey! Jim leapt to his feet. We're all stuck here so how about we have pizza? It's on me! Pizza for everyone! He fished out his cellphone. How many pizzas was that going to be? He asked if people wanted all-dressed or vegetarian or what? People weren't saying, but he knew how that worked. They were afraid they were going to have to pay. I'm paying, he shouted. It's my job to make sure you're happy. He started turning it into a game, guessing who wanted cheese and who wanted all-dressed. Jim was a bolt of skinny energy with long hair and baseball cap, determined that everyone was going to have a slice of pizza.
Steve thought this guy shouting about pizza was hilarious. He'd started filming on his phone. He doubted it was going to happen. Look at how he pretended to check the time on his watch--only he wasn't even wearing a watch! What a hoot. Steve winked at other people and shook his head. Can you believe this guy? You bet, he was going to post this on FB!
Steve was on his way to see Pierre, whom he'd met online and who was going to take him on the big ferris wheel in Old Montreal and show him the Village. Steve hadn't told Pierre that he was afraid of heights. Talking was going to be complicated since Pierre didn't speak English and Steve didn't speak French, but Steve had the Duolingo app on his phone and was going to practice on the train. (Which I can tell you he did, because Steve sat next to us and he had not brought earphones.)
Nobody in the waiting room thought they would see Jim again once he disappeared to "get the pizzas", but then he burst through the doors with a stack of pizza boxes, paper plates and napkins. He said he hadn't remembered what everyone wanted but he'd got a good selection and he walked from one person to the next with an open box in each hand. He called the men Sir and the women Ma'am or Miss. Not everyone accepted a piece, but when they saw that other people were having pizza and Jim refused all offers of payment, they did. Jim told everyone that it was important to be generous when we could and right now he was the one being generous. We're all stuck here, waiting for a train, so let's make the most of it!
One woman said she was sorry, she couldn't eat pizza. What she needed was a piece of fruit. But that was her problem, not his, she said. She complimented Jim on being so generous with the pizza.
Steve had three slices of pizza on a plate on his lap and was asking Jim where he'd come from. Miramichi! And he could tell you everything you wanted to know about fisheries and why you should NEVER eat lobster in Toronto. There had been time in jail too, but he wasn't guilty. He'd taken the rap anyhow, because what could you do? He had no regrets.
Annie had decided to sit next to Fernando who had sad eyes and looked lonely. When she took a slice of pizza, she offered to give Jim a kiss. That was payment he happily stooped to receive. Have some pizza, she chided Fernando. You have to trust people. We could both die tonight but look at me, I'm not afraid to die and I probably have cancer. She had already guessed that Fernando would sit with her on the train and they would talk until late into the night, telling each other secrets, and that they would fall asleep with their heads touching. She hoped he didn't snore because she'd hated how her husband had snored. Do you snore? she asked bluntly--but hadn't meant to say it so loudly that several people sitting around glanced across to hear his answer. He blushed and said he didn't think so. With such a sweet blush, she would forgive him even if he did. It was only for a night.
At intervals there were announcements that the train was delayed another few moments. People would groan, but now it was a communal, we're all in this together sound. Someone was streaming country and western loudly on the phone. Annie said it put her in the mood to dance. Fernando looked alarmed and she patted his arm and said that was all right.
Even the woman, who was still expecting to have the supper that came with the cost of her sleeper, had had pizza. Nobody had noticed that Jim had once again disappeared--until he burst through the doors with his duffel bag over his shoulder, reached into it with a flourish and presented the woman who said she needed a piece of fruit with a pomegranate.
Steve now insisted on a selfie with Jim--and the woman who posed before them with the pomegranate on her open palm. Steve explained that he was filming because he was a musician and his fans had asked him to post a play by play account of his trip. He showed people sitting nearby pics of himself in his sequined shirt. His singing rosary video on Youtube had over a million hits. People loved it!
Jim did a last round of the waiting room with the remaining pizza. Only once he was satisfied that everyone was as happy as they could be waiting for a train that was late did he sit and take a fat, homemade sandwich from his duffel bag. No pizza for him, thanks.
The algorithm of country and western music had segued into Christmas songs. The train must have sped up. The last few announcements were that the train was arriving sooner--by all of four minutes since the previous announcement--though it was still over an hour and a half late. Ah, who cared? We would get to wherever we were going when we got there.
R had cycled from Montreal to Moncton. I had taken the train to Moncton and we'd crossed to Prince Edward Island. We were now heading home. Here is the route he cycled, approx 2000 km.
When you spend 18 hours on a train with the small group of people with whom you were waiting for it arrive, you get to hear their stories.