Strangers on a Train

Imagine traversing the English countryside by train with your Australian friend (or if you are Australian, with your American friend), enjoying beer and conversation, eager in anticipation for the evening’s Fleetwood Mac concert.  Such was the state of my affairs on October 27, 2009, when aboard a Virgin Blue train bound from London to Manchester, Vicki and I shared a seating quadrant comprised of two ample seats per side with a convenient table in between.  I faced the forward direction of the train, and Vicki the rear.  At the start of our journey, the steward for our car, an elderly and affable English gentleman, tottered down the aisle asking after meal requests from interested passengers.  As the English gent passed us and inquired at the section of a mother and son that had boarded shortly after we were seated, I overheard the mother ask the child if he would like the smoked salmon sandwich.  My understanding is that culinary interest in smoked salmon indicates advanced age in a child, even an English child.

Let us fast-forward further into our journey.  Vicki and I are catching up on the various day-to-day stories in our respective lives, enjoying a pint of Guinness (me) and Stella Artois (Vicki), when I see Vicki’s eyes go wide.  I hadn’t said anything extraordinary.  In fact, I recall being in the throws of a rather mundane description of my living situation in South Florida.  I mentally bookmarked Vicki’s reaction to ask her later.  I didn’t have to ask her, because a few minutes later, following a scheduled stop and the disembarkment of passengers seated behind me, Vicki exhaled, rolled her eyes, and shook her head—all one fluid behavior—and told me what she had witnessed that I had missed as I drank Guinness and chattered away unawares.  The mother of the son who was a fan of smoked salmon had proceeded, after giving the boy’s lunch order, to breastfeed the child for their entire ride with us.  This she had done without apparent concern for concealment.  Vicki reported that the woman had summoned our elderly Englishman conductor to her side to retrieve for her a bag from the overhead storage, gesturing vigorously with an arm that extended unabashedly from her fully exposed bosom.  I don’t know, having been oblivious to this entire display, if the woman wrapped her top in any covering before leaving our train.

Vicki noted that the group seated directly across from the breastfeeding duo would have been in a particularly awkward and visually inescapable position.  One of the men in that station had to leave his seat at one point, edging around the woman seated next to him and then around the breastfeeding section. Naturally, Vicki and I discussed the entire scenario for the remainder of the train ride to Manchester as well as on our journey to our hotel, when we should have been reviewing details from past shows to prepare ourselves for the night’s concert.  Vicki pointedly wondered what the group directly next to the breastfeeding area thought, and we acknowledged that their experience was likely to remain a mystery to us.  That discussion got us to our hotel (which was quite lovely), where we forgot about the train incident and proceeded with our concert preparation: nap, champagne, decisions on attire and makeup application.  The show was outstanding; Stevie was radiant.  As though walking lightly on a cloud of joy, Vicki and I floated from the venue and around the street corner, coming upon the Manchester Hard Rock Cafe, where we happily repaired for dinner and discussion.

Seated as we were, across from each other with Vicki facing the interior of the restaurant, I was perfectly positioned to see Vicki’s second wide-eyed expression of the day when, nary a fraction into our post-concert analysis, she exclaimed, “Those are the breastfeeding people from the train.”  Vicki qualified her exclamation by telling me that she recognized these witnesses because they were seated in the same formation, because the man on the inside of the seat made his way out in the same way as he had on the train, and because she subconsciously noted the similarity in motion.  She sped to their table to make introductions.  The group visited our table for further discussion.  In their nostalgic recapture of the events on the train, one of the men asked Vicki, “Did you see the part where he (the child) sat up and drank from a cup before diving back in?”  We then revisited my favorite topic, the smoked salmon sandwich and the age of a child that would request a smoked salmon sandwich.  Following, Vicki and I ate, reflected, marveled, and laughed ourselves into a doubled-over stupor all the way back to the hotel.

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