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“The life of every man is a way to himself, an attempt at a way, the suggestion of a path.”
Hermann Hesse

The Lifer

He had now been sitting on this bench on a platform of the main station at exactly 6.30 p.m. every day except Saturdays and Sundays for five years waiting between seven and seven and a half minutes for his ever late train. So it was most surprising that only today his neat and tidy mind came across this play of words which was actually so close at hand. The thought that was amusing him so oddly was that the regional railway was most reliable in its unpunctuality. Between two and two and a half minutes late, at 6.37 or 6.37 p.m. and thirty seconds instead of 6.35 p.m. as stated on the timetable, the train would stop on platform 19 producing deafening noises by the heavy weighted coaches on the comparatively thin rail tracks and each time there was this nerve grinding squealing of the brakes. It annoyed him just as much as children’s voices when they played. Five years ago there had been a change in platform. It was obvious to him that the reconstruction process in the city centre had caused less commuters to travel by train which had reduced the number of passengers and hence resulted in less coaches being needed which would for economic reasons again result in a change of platform. Here at the outside and degenerated platform 19 grass was growing between the tracks and the stones and flowers were in bloom next to the bench on this hot summer day. The hot sun was not hindered in causing to peel the paint off the bench.

He was resting his head and enjoyed the warming sunlight on his face. His grey jacket was neatly folded and placed on his executive case. But still he was extremely hot as his blue shirt provided an efficient heat storage and his sleeveless vest contributed to his situation.

His contemplations on the question whether or not it were permitted to slightly loosen his tie and to open his top button and possibly the second button, too, in front of all these people on the platform in order to allow for a better ventilation of his sweaty chest, were interrupted without a convincing result by the friendly greetings of a man passing by. He estimated his age at between 40 and 50 due to his appearance in the last three years, “Ah, Mr Leclerk, I wish you a nice day!”

Mr Leclerk raised his eyes and replied, „Oh yes, a wonderful day! But I am afraid it is a little too hot for me.“ He nodded his head towards the man passing when his eyes caught sight of his case on his lap. He inspected it carefully. There were the initials “M” and “L” neatly stuck with preprinted stickers left and right of the handle of his hard plastic case on the provided spaces for this purpose. Mr Leclerk murmured his name, “Mareus Leclerk”. He had always hated his first name. That was one of the reasons why even the private, intimate friends he had –or rather had because one has friends, if one can talk of friends in his case at all- would only know him by his surname. To be precise his mother was the only person on this planet who would call him by his first name. And when she did so he fought a cold shiver on his back. Even in his own thoughts he spoke of himself as Mr Leclerk.

Soon the train had to arrive. The hands on his watch that was sparkling in the sun pointed at 6.36 p.m. So he would have another one to one and a half minutes to relax. Half in thoughts he arranged the numbers on the two number locks on his case that were situated on the far ends left and right of the handle to his mother’s birth date. He knew he would just have to push down the little levers and he could inspect if he had everything in his case. And that is exactly what he did. He had approximately 30 seconds but a short glance revealed that nothing had disturbed the perfect order and organisation within his hard plastic executive case. Among the many things he disliked there were surely untidiness, mess and confusion. Everything had its place and order. Of course this was the same in his case. Things that would not serve a purpose or not fit in would not go in. He could tell straight away that exactly 50 pages of white and unlined paper and cardboard with lines and squares printed on where placed in the compartment which was specially designed to contain paper of this sort. It could be opened and closed with the help of a leather strap. There was quite a number of compartments for storing essential objects for daily use in the life of an executive employee in different sizes in the mysteriously tidy inside of his hard plastic case which would have similar opening and closing mechanisms as the one described before. Next to the paper there were three silver pens – one mechanical pencil with exactly five replacement leads, one ballpoint pen, of course with an extra cartridge, too, and an expensive fountain pen he by principal never used-, the extremely small and compact mobile phone, his calendar in a real leather binder, a dictating machine – a present for his 10th employment anniversary at the same company -, a folder full with business papers that he would work on once he was at home, a silver thermos flask, that in the morning would be filled exactly up to the one-litre line with black coffee and the business newspaper that the ever smiling newspaper lady at the main station would have reserved for him every morning. Summarizing, his case contained exactly ten different items he only needed to count in their totality to discover if he had forgotten anything which as you might have guessed had never occurred. And to nobody’s surprise at 6.36 p.m. and thirty seconds Mr Leclerk’s case contained exactly ten items. Happy with the finding that everything had its order he pushed down tightly the lid of his case with a click of the lock. Seconds later the train was unmistakeably audible from a distance.

What happened now had always been the same for the past five years with maybe a few moments tolerance and a few different movements. Merely the change in platform two years ago had noticeably roughed up Mr Leclerk’s complete life.

So Mr Leclerk boarded the middle coach as he did every day. There was no first class coach on regional trains but this did not matter to him, actually he preferred travelling among other people. In first class coaches people tended to either not talk at all or talk about tiring topics. But of course it would have not mattered to the company Mr Leclerk worked for how much they paid for a train ticket. This thought made him quite content. Apart from that he loved the excitement when travelling second class. It was the same with this train that departed somewhere between 6.35 p.m. and 6.37 p.m. and 30 seconds from the main station in the city centre and started its short journey to his little apartment on the first floor of a small home on the green outskirts of the city. There was no faster way to leave the city he hated so much and to travel through the lovely landscape he had begun to admire when he was a little child.

For five years Mr Leclerk had opened the coach door between 6.35 p.m. and 6.37 p.m. and thirty seconds and sat down on the first seat on the right in the direction of travel. After he would have placed his case in the luggage compartment he would in summer hang up his jacket, in autumn the long coat, in winter the thick and fury winter coat and in spring the light blazer or rain jacket on the hook provided for this purpose. Then he would take out the newspaper and a cautious look through the coach. There was the old lady who would knit on some kind of clothing with a boy sitting next to her who could have easily been her grandson, the vagabond with the old and tattered jeans and the bottle of liquor and many other familiar people who you always meet on trains.

He would nod his head friendly and his lips would be moved by a little smile and then all would reply: some by nodding back, others by smiling and the old lady would wave a tiny wave. As soon as he was seated correctly the world around him dropped back into its monotonous trot and he would again concentrate on his own thoughts. The old lady would continue to knit her scarf and the vagabond would take a dip sip from his liquor.

But this day it was to be different. Opposite his seat that he occupied every day there sat a girl of 23 years of age, as he had estimated at first sight. Completely disturbed he stared at her for a few long and collected moments, the coach door still in his hands. He soon remembered his duties and tore his look away and glanced through the coach. It was as if the other passengers who on other days had been so intimate looked down on him in disgust. He smiled mechanically. They smiled mechanically back at him and he sat down on his seat opposite the girl. Intimidated he leered at her and found that she smiled the most wonderful smile at him that he had ever seen. He looked up and down her. Never before had he studied a female being so precisely although there were so many of them where he worked. He made an effort to swallow the lumps in his throat without attracting too much attention and breathed as calmly as possible; which was not calm at all. He did not know where to stop with his eyes. The freckles on the girls pretty face sent shivers of happiness down his poor spine.

Suddenly he realized that he had forgotten to take off his jacket and the case was still lying next to him and not as usual in the compartment. He got up on his shaking knees as good as he could. In spite of the movements of the train he succeeded in hanging his jacket on the hook and placing his case in the compartment.

Just as he had sat down and he found the courage to look at her again the beautiful girl stood up, smiled at him again and walked out. The train had stopped. She was heading directly for the exit and opened it with an angel’s easiness. Mr Leclerk did not know what was happening to him. He saw her passing the window of the coach still smiling at him with the most graceful walk he had ever consciously seen. He rushed after her reaching for his case and his jacket on the way by which he tore the tag from the hook and ran to the door out of which the girl had disappeared. He wanted to ask her her name and where she lived and wanted to tell her his first name and wanted to invite her to his home that nobody else had ever seen except for some repairmen and his landlord.

Slowly the train gained speed. As good as he could he shook the door handles but they would not turn and open any more. His face was flat against the glass so he could catch one last final glimpse of her and her long legs before he desperately sank to his knees.

Ashamed he tided his things and went back to his seat careful to attract as little attention as possible. The other passengers in the coach stared at him doubtfully, even punishingly and full of questions. And in that moment when he realized he had been sentenced to life, he hid in his seat as good as he could and wished, wished so desperately that the train would never again, for his whole life would never stop.

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