Missionary Positions 1

A STRANGER ON A TRAIN

A ten year old boy is riding the red rattler across the suburbs of Melbourne. Plastic in his being, not yet firm in himself, quite unconsciously he absorbs the personas around him. One by one and all at once, he takes them in, trying to drink their apparent confidence, their certitude.

An older man enters the crowded carriage, looks around and selects the seat directly opposite the boy. He sits down, his knees only inches away. He carries a newspaper which is rolled into a cylinder. As he sits down, the train starts to move again, and quite quickly the movement makes the man sleepy and he nods off.

Every so often the boy senses the older man’s gaze upon him, but whenever he looks up to check, the man’s eyes are closed.

The ride is a long one. The deeper they go into the suburbs, the fewer the remaining passengers. Eventually, there are only the two of them in that whole cavernous compartment – the older one asleep and the younger one all too conscious.

He is uncomfortably aware of the man’s closeness in all that space: they haven’t even spoken. And the boy feels anxious, not knowing whether he even exists to this long distance sleeper.

He’d like to move, but he thinks he might offend.

The boy wonders whether the man will know when to get off. Perhaps he has already missed his stop. Soon the boy feels anxious about this too.

The train pulls into Hughesdale Station. The boy feels the stirrings of relief – his is the next stop. It will be okay then to move away.

But the sleeper has risen to his feet. He turns for the door, then pauses. The boy feels a light tapping upon the top of his head. It is the sleeper, using his furled newspaper to gain his attention.

He speaks: Good on yer, son. It’s a credit to you.

He taps the boy’s head again, this time touching the yarmulka that sits on his crown: You keep wearing that, son – it won’t let yer down.

The stranger alights and is gone.

The boy touches the top of his head. He feels somehow annointed.

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