We are waiting for the 11:15, I am travelling alone.
Asian tourists, serene girls, with somnolent boyfriends like wisps of rice straw in their wake, drift through the concourse – pale leaves on dark water, catching against benches and pillars, throwing up beachheads of bags and flowers.
Whispering deros, winos and assorted night people hug their cooling mugs of tea for an hour longer; they are not travelling today. A middle-aged woman in an ill-chosen gym kit passes through impatient rights-demanding pensioners, confounding their overly important luggage.
Loitering: lost boys and lovely tinkerbells. This tinkerboy, lost in his parents’ town, goes to the city – going home for the first time. This overweight girl hides her intelligence from her pretty friend’s handsome companion.
This thin old man in a pork-pie hat crosses my path; we snap each other’s age, thinness, hattedness, with cautious smiles.
A cluster of matrons forms a silent flower arrangement in one corner; their frocks have never been fashionable. Where are their bobby sox, their full skirts and ten petticoats, their duck-tailed, tuxedoed, B&S Ball partners? There’s an old tea-chest in a barn, seven miles and five decades from Griffiths Tea; dust motes jive to the whispered rhythm of crimplene and serge as they decay in 4/4 back beat.
Tubby teenage boys log mischief in their diaries. An aging stylist sits poised, a small dog pants.
Queen Victoria’s grand and cakey architecture in her namesake territory: Grecian elevations, Roman tiles, Egyptian pillars, Georgian glass. Plunder across lands and times, reduced to serve the comfortably landed gentry, their smug white females, their sons travelling to school or war or business. Or mistresses. There must always be mistresses – this is no old movie of restraint and amour propriety.
The style is steam punk; but the age of steam and the age of punk have both departed this place.
The unsmiling café matron serves an unsmilingly perfect cup of tea; a tray of inconsistent cakes tempts me to make a small joke and regret it immediately. Portions of mousse are contemptuously deposited in twenty-first century serving cups – disposable, against everything the station was built to provide, uphold, esteem. “There’s no WiFi?” Of course there is no WiFi.
My reflection stands still as the train windows stream past, slowing. We are gone; the station reloads. As I fall into my future, I elide into the station’s past.