Sam Catches A Train
Mr and Mrs Thomas stood awkwardly beside their son. Every minute or so, one of them would flicker their eyes towards him, open their mouth, and then close it without saying a word. The twelve-year-old boy kept his tawny brown eyes on the floor and breathed in the horrid scent of the train station though his upturned nose. The boy wore a crisp white shirt, a tie, black trousers and a pair of worn blue sneakers. His sandy blond hair had been combed neatly and his shirt was tucked in. He stood hunched over, with his hair falling forward into his face and his hands in his pockets. Around him and his parents, dozens of others spoke loudly, laughed and rushed around the platform. Children wearing their own uniforms straightened their ties and dusted off their white shirts. Parents ran circles around their children, handing them this and that, wiping dirt off their noses and reminding them not to forget a thing.
Mrs Thomas elbowed her husband, jerked her head towards their son and flashed him a pointed look. Her husband sighed, nodded his head slightly and watched as she disappeared into the crowd of bustling people. Mr Thomas pushed his rectangular glasses further up his nose and knelt down, looking up at his son’s face. “Sam, Thornton really will be good for you,” he began and the boy lifted his gaze to meet his father’s soft blue eyes. “I know you aren’t happy about it, but me and your mother did the research and it really is a great school,” he continued, “You’ll make friends in no time, and everyone else will be new too.”
“I know,” said Sam. He let out a breath and looked down at the floor before meeting his father’s eyes again, as if making a decision. “Look, if it really means this much to you and mum, I’ll go, I’ll be fine,” he said earnestly. His father smiled and straightened up. “Right then, its settled, just make sure you don’t forget to write back home, Kiddo,” he said winking good-naturedly at his son. Sam’s mouth curved into a smile, “Will do, Dad,” he replied. Mr Thomas laughed and ruffled his son’s hair as Mrs Thomas emerged from the crowd behind them. She frowned and scolded her husband, but she couldn’t fight back a smile when the two snickered. “Honestly, you boys are impossible,” she laughed. She raked her fingers through her son’s hair in an attempt to flatten it, but it was no use. “It’s alright mum, I’m not going to comb my hair for the rest of the year anyway, best to not give everyone high expectations,” Sam said, pushing his mother’s hand away. She laughed, “Alright, Tousle-head,” A piecing whistle followed by a bored voice sounded from the speaker, “Everyone heading to Thornton, please make your way to platform 6, your train has arrived, have a terrible trip,”
“Well, isn’t that lovely,” Sam’s mother retorted, earning a smirk from her son. She planted a kiss on his cheek and said, “Have a great time at Thornton, Sam,”
“Good luck, Kiddo!” Mr Thomas exclaimed, waving as Sam grabbed his suitcase, turned around, and followed the crowd of children heading towards the train. “Don’t forget to brush your teeth!” Mrs Thomas yelled, and a loud groan could be heard from her son. Sam stepped onto the train, pulling his bag in after him, and the door slid shut behind him.
Mr and Mrs Thomas waved as their son’s train pulled out of the station, disappearing from view.
As they pulled away from the station, Sam found himself standing in the train’s corridor. The dozens of children also attending Thornton that year were crammed inside with him, filling the space with noise. Sam kept to the wall to avoid the rampaging children and stared at the rolling landscape outside the small window. The children who had attended Thornton before babbled and joked, running around to find classmates and friends. The students shrieked and gossiped and laughed in unison, creating a horrible racket.
“QUIET!” bellowed a small woman who had slipped into the corridor unnoticed. Immediately, the older students sobered and the younger children followed their example. Sam stood up on his tip-toes to see the speaker and was taken back when he realised she was even smaller than him. The woman, with her cat-like eyes observing the crowd and her wispy grey hair pulled into a bun, observed the crowd. A tall thin man stepped into the corridor holding a crate. He placed the box by her feet and she curtly stepped up on it, raising herself a few extra centimetres. She looked ridiculous. Sam suppressed a smile, and judging from a few of the other new student’s faces, they were also finding it hard not to laugh at the tiny old lady.
“Ahem” she coughed, “I am Ms Fitzgerald, as some of you already know, and I would like to take this moment to welcome any students who may be new to the school.” she smiled, which surprised Sam, because it wasn’t those fake smiles he’d received from other teachers, she looked genuinely happy to meet new students like him. “We will arrive at Thornton in time for the ‘Start of Year Feast’, until then, I advise you to stay in the compartment I assign you for the duration of the trip,” she finished before giving another little cough. Silence. Ms Fitzgerald coughed again. The thin man looked around the corridor, confusion written clearly on his face. “Ahem!” Ms Fitzgerald said even louder.
“Oh!” exclaimed the man and he reached into his jacket to pull out a piece of paper, “Right, sorry Miss.” Sam and a few others couldn’t help laughing and the corners Ms Fitzgerald’s lips quirked up. “Quiet now,” she said and the room fell silent. There was something about the woman, despite her height, that demanded respect, and Sam couldn’t help standing to attention as she began to read off the sheet of paper. “I will pair you up with three other students in your year and assign your group a compartment, pay attention because I will not repeat myself,” she started, “There will be no switching compartments so do not bother asking, and I suggest getting to know the people in your group, as you will also share a dorm with them for the time you remain at Thornton.” Ms Fitzgerald coughed, clearing her throat before she began to read from the list of names on the sheet.
She went through each group on her list and kept to her word, she did not repeat a group twice. “Mr Gray, Marley, Parker, and Thomas, compartment nine,” she said and Sam started to push his way through the crowd of students. They parted for him and the three other boys in his group, and for the first time, Sam got a look at who his dorm mates would be.
The tallest of the four, had ginger hair and long gangling limbs. His nose was covered in freckles and his brown eyes were flecked with green.
The second boy walked slower than the others, his head in a book. His white shirt was too large for his thin frame and his shoes were falling apart. His unkempt mousy brown hair fell forward into the pages of his book, that seemed to be glued to his nose.
The third had a spring in his step and a smile on his face. He cocked his head to the side to read over the reading boy’s shoulder and brushed his long dark hair out of his face. His eyes were a mossy green and his skin a dark brown. He jumped ahead of the others and reached compartment nine first. “Welcome to your room, gentlemen,” he said in a smart voice, opening the door and bowing fancily. Sam and the tall boy chuckled and the reading boy looked up from his book and gave a close-lipped smile.
The boys walked stepped into the compartment, shutting the door behind them.
The four boys sat down, Sam next to the red-headed boy and the other two across from them. They had stowed their bags in the overhead lockers and the reading boy had put his book away.
“Ms Fitzgerald’s pretty cool, isn’t she? I hope I get her for one of my classes,” said the boy who had opened the door.
“Yeah, apparently, she’s been teaching here since forever,” said the red-headed boy, “She even taught my dad in his first year,”
“Actually, not forever,” piped up the reading boy. His face went red when he noticed the others looking at him, expecting him to go on. He had pressed his back up to window, his arms hugging his knees close to his chest, folded in on himself. “Ms Fitzgerald has taught at Thornton for seventy-one years, and before that she was a student,” he explained.
“Seventy-one!” exclaimed Sam. It seemed impossible for anyone to put up with rowdy children all-day for so long. The boy smiled softly and sat up a little straighter, “Yeah, crazy, isn’t it?”
“Insane, more like it!” said the red-headed boy, “I mean, I knew she was old, but, wow.” he slumped back in his seat beside Sam, his mouth hanging open.
“How’d you know that anyway?” Sam asked.
The boy’s ears turned pink. “Oh, I read a lot,” he said quickly, “A book on Thornton’s history was published a few years ago, I just wanted to do some research before the school year started,”
“You know any other cool stuff, mate?” asked the green-eyed boy. He sat forward in his seat, twisted around to face the boy next to him.
The reading boy laughed, shaking his head. “Just lame stuff, you probably don’t want to hear it, like…” he paused, thinking of an example, and a cheeky smile spread across his face, “like how, Mr Smedley has a tattoo of a kangaroo on his backside,”
The boys burst into a fit of laughter. Sam leaned forward in his seat, clutching his stomach, finding it hard to breathe as he chortled.
“You’re a riot, man!” wheezed the green-eyed boy as the others gasped for air, “What’s your name?”
The reading boy’s toothy smile lit up his face. He had moved away from the wall and looked a lot more comfortable. “James,” he said, “James Parker,”
“Nice meeting you, mate,” said the green-eyed boy, reaching out, “I’m Ethan Gray.” The boys shook hands before looking across at Sam and the red-headed boy.
“Who are you guys then?” Ethan asked.
“I’m Oliver Marley,” said the red-headed boy, his face the same colour of his hair after laughing.
Many handshakes later, the boys sat back in their seats, laughing and joking as if they had known each other all their lives. The sun began to set outside and the spindly trees cast shadows on the boy’s faces as the train passed through the Australian bush.
“You know what guys,” said Ethan, sprawled over his seat, golden sunlight illuminating his face, “I reckon we might be good friends, hey?”
“Totally,” agreed Sam and the other two nodded earnestly.
The four of them talked and laughed until the sun disappeared and the moon rose high into the dark sky.