"I do hope that you brought something with you to read on the train to Bath," Mr. H went on, "I don't want to spend the whole time talking. I prefer to read on train journeys."
I assured him that I did, indeed, have something to read. I always have a couple of books with me whenever I go away. It's a habit. Most of the time I don't even read those books as I end up buying others in random bookstores. He needn't have worried. For this train ride I also brought a diary along. It is electric blue and lists the date and gives the writer several lines to express something. It's actually more of a appointment diary, but I use it not only to record meetings and other outings, but also to make observations of things that are both consequential and terribly insignificant.
Mr. H saw the diary at some point and asked about it. I could tell he restrained himself from asking more pointed questions about its contents; so he was of course left to wonder how big of a part he played in the notes I was taking. He watched me write as we sat in a pub waiting for the train to Bath be called.
I wrote a brief entry about how I had trouble keeping up with Mr. H in our walk through London to get anywhere. Museums. Train stations. A play. He was his own Ares and Hermes rolled into one. And I was often left in the dust.
That day, on the way to Bath, he had a singular path in mind and marched me through the cold and wind and snow to get us to Paddington frightfully early. He would walk quickly forward complaining that I couldn't properly keep up and that our relative walking speed had nothing to do with our height difference and everything to do with me, and my relative fitness. This comment was first uttered while I was racing along in heels (albeit small ones) on my first night in town. I restrained my urge to kill him a few times and I even told him I hated him once after I climbed one hundred ninety three steps in those same heels. I was sure to point out that I was not always sure of where I was going, and didn't feel as comfortable jaywalking in that city. My instinct is still to look the wrong way on London streets, and I recognize that instinct as a somewhat dangerous reflex.
Although he would bound ahead from time to time, he was easy to spot, and so I eventually felt no inclination to fight to keep up with him especially if his lead or he had become annoying to me. I knew that I was neither a needy teenager, a puppy, nor was I one of his mates. And with that, I happily resumed a fairly normal pace.
He continually pointed out that he'd do his best to slow down, but it wasn't in his nature to walk so slowly--which in my defense, really wasn't that slow. And yet, he would turn around to make sure that I wasn't lost or missing, "because I worry about you," he insisted.
But again, at Paddington, when the train was called, he darted off again, leaving me to chase him through the station and through the train to our seats.
Once I sat down, I was marvelously happy to be against the window.
"Do you want tea or fruit or a sandwich?" he asked before we got settled.
Mr. H got up extra early that morning to make his famous bacon sandwiches and a thermos full of tea. Watching him make preparations for our outing was quite endearing. He assured me that we'd be hungry on our the way and explained that travel always made him hungry. "It is simply Pavlovian," he insisted. He attributed this to journeys he'd made as a child with his family, and to his mother's efforts to make the travel as easy as possible.
It was small moments like these that reminded me how much I had yet to learn about Mr. H.
"No thank you. I'm not that hungry. We just ate."
"I know, but are you sure? Do you need anything else? Would you like my copy of The Economist?"
"No, really. I'm fine."
In his effort to make me feel comfortable, Mr. H attempted to engage me in conversation for a good part of the train ride. At first I didn't have the heart to tell him, that for me, train rides are as close to a spiritual journey as I take in any given year. I may read or write, but mostly, I enjoy watching the countryside blow past me while I listen to music. I had a set list all picked out. And because I was there during England's big snow, there was so much to see. A land covered in white and ice.
"You know that you're a very handsome man," I offered, "but you're even handsomer when you're quiet."
I knew of no other way to get him to let himself and me enjoy the contemplation that accompanies the rails.
"Am I talking too much?"
And then after a brief conversation about his shirt and sweater and its relative attractiveness there was finally a contented quiet.
We reached Bath, after nearly missing the stop because the train ride was so enjoyable. There was more ice and snow and cold than anything I've ever experienced in England. At the entrance of the train station Mr. H announced, "Should we get separated, let us meet here at half past six before the train departs."
"What makes you think we'll get separated? Are you worried that I'll get annoyed and run away?"
"I am talking too much."
"There's no need to worry about that now. This should be fun."
photo: (streets of bath. taken by me, but mostly thanks to a wonderfully edited holga-ish photo. Brava to Jenni's suggestion that I look at picknik.com)