Walter and the 5.08 Express

It wasn’t that Walter was a clock-watcher as such, with all that term implied – he felt he had a sound work ethic – but he did keep an eye on the time, which in his view wasn’t the same thing at all. Punctuality was, after all, important to him. So on an ordinary, regular kind of day at the office, Walter would pack up and leave on the stroke of 5.00pm, and if everything went well, in his favour, if everything clicked into place, he would make the 5.08pm express from Flagstaff Station to Watergardens.

For Walter it was a challenge he set himself, catching that particular train, a little game he played with himself, just inside his own head. It wasn’t anything to do with actually needing to be on the 5.08 train. That wasn’t the important thing at all. If that was the only purpose of the challenge, he could easily be on the 5.08pm train – if he left work early for example, or ran like a mad thing through the streets to the station. But it wasn’t important that he was on the train, as such, it was just important that he catch it, in his own way, by his own rules.

To begin with he wasn’t allowed to leave work until the clock on the wall ticked over to 5pm exactly. Then, of course, having done his hours, he was officially free to go. So he would calmly log off his computer, collect his coat and briefcase, walk to the foyer and press the lift-call button. There was no hurry about it, there was no rushing around, no frenzied pushing and re-pushing of the lift button. He would simply walk through Reception in a measured way, say goodnight to Ros, the Receptionist, as he did every night, and press the lift button, once and once only. He wouldn’t linger, certainly, but neither did he rush.

If anything transpired to delay him, if someone came up to his desk for example and asked him something just before 5pm, well of course the jig was up, the game was over, he would never make the 5.08 express. Likewise if the lifts took ages, as they sometimes did, or they were completely full and he had to let a couple of lifts go without him, wait until there was a lift with room in it before he could squeeze himself in, then again there was no way he was going to make his train. But if all went to plan, if he got out of work without being way-laid by a colleague at his desk or in the foyer, and if the lift arrived promptly and wasn’t packed, and he got in and went straight down to the foyer and out into the street, if all that stuff happened, then he might, he just might make it.

From his building to the Flagstaff train station was a matter of two and a half blocks through two sets of pedestrian crossing lights. Of course running was out of the question, against the rules. Walter didn’t run for trains. He simply wasn’t the type to run through the street, coat flapping behind him. And anyway, it wasn’t in his head, part of the game, it wasn’t allowed. He was allowed, of course, to walk briskly, it made sense to walk briskly if you wanted to catch a train. Of course he never dawdled. But likewise, he never ran.

If all had so far gone well, and the two pedestrian crossing lights had been in his favour, Walter would get a prickle of excitement, because that’s when it started to get interesting. If he’d made it that far, there was a good chance he would make the train.

Then, though, came the tricky bit. How many people would there be at the barriers to the station? If there were no crowds, no lines, if he got through almost immediately, and there was no hold-up, no trouble about his ticket not scanning, and if the two sets of escalators to his platform, platform three, weren’t clogged with people who didn’t keep to the left, a pet peeve of his, and he could therefore walk down the moving escalators, and if the train was actually there, if it was on time and came into the station at 5.08 as timetabled, then Walter might be able to step on the train, never having run, never having hurried, not having left work early, he might be able to simply step on the train just at the very moment before the warning beeps began and the doors closed at his back.

If it all happened like that, if it all came together, as, to be truthful, it rarely did – the odds of all of those variables happening in Walter’s favour one after the other weren’t good, he’d done the calculations, but if they did come together and he stepped onto that train just in time, he felt a little thrill of … was it triumph? Pleasure? Wellbeing? He felt as though the world through which he stalked, usually so messy and irregular, that world, just for eight minutes, had been on his side.

Walter and the 5.08 Express

Ash Sievwright

Joined May 2010

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Artist's Description

Walter is my new main man. I have fallen a little bit in love with him. As it should be.

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  • bellmusker
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