Unexpected stop

The train from Vienna to Linz on that Friday afternoon was jammed with students stumbling past under over-sized backpacks, friendly pensioners with feisty fox terriers and fraught families with giant suitcases trying to squeeze by the exhausted who had camped out permanently in the corridor. I was early, thank god, and managed to snatch a seat.

I sank back into the blue-checkered cushions, letting the stress of the week slowly seep away with the two hours travel time. I watched the scenery getting more rural with each kilometer, rattling past by art deco mansions near Purkersdorf, lush green meadows, cornfields and small villages nestled along the way, while my thoughts drift of. I pulled out my book, today it was a novel by Salman Rushdie Midnight’s Children and slipped undisturbed into a story of magical realism at the time of India’s independence, without a single pang of guilt that I should be doing something else.

The time slid by…

Then suddenly, five minutes before arrival, the train came to an abrupt halt just outside of Linz, near the VOEST steelworks. Conversation stopped. People looked around, craning their necks to see what was going on. Minutes passed. Finally a conductor announced an unscheduled stop. Only ten minutes, he promised. A groan went through the compartment in a wave.

“If I’m lucky I’ll still be able to catch my connection to Hamburg,” muttered a business man in front of me. He ended up not being able to. Another ten minutes passed. There was little talk. Once more, the creaky voice came onto the loud speakers in German and broken English: The police had closed the route for an indefinite time because someone was threatening suicide.

Now, all at once, and perhaps ironically, the compartment came to life, as people began phoning relatives and friends to say they didn’t know when they would arrive. Many were angry, a few philosophical. Some even broke the unspoken rule in Austria of not talking to your neighbor. The tidal wave built, as more and more people started making phone calls. It was funny, actually, eavesdropping on other people’s complaints; not one of them seemed worried in the slightest about the person threatening suicide.

“Why doesn’t he just kill himself and get it over with – so that we can drive on!” exclaimed one well-dressed woman in her fifties. She wasn’t kidding. Nobody laughed.

When we arrived at Linz main, I couldn’t wait to leave the train.

– Vera Mair

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