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A Kind Stranger

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Mark Wilson looked up at the sky and frowned. Heavy rainclouds covered the sky. He looked back down, unsure of why he had looked up in the first place. He could have known what the weather was without looking up. Rainy and cloudy. It was always rainy and cloudy in London, especially around this time of year. It was a rare case for the sun to shine on the capital of England in late October. To be frank, Mark was just glad that it was not raining at the moment.

A brittle wind slapped at the bottom of Mark's trench coat, and he pulled it tighter around himself to better retain what little warmth was still present in his body. With his left hand he pulled out his pocket watch from his breast pocket to check the time, and then snapped it shut and replaced it before briskly shoving his hand back into his coat pocket. It was seven twenty-seven. He was neither running late nor early, but he was not right on time either. The reason that he was forcing himself to walk in the cold, autumn air was that he was on his way to catch the train on his daily commute to to his job as a newspaper columnist, where he would spend the day cramped into a small cubicle with a typewriter writing about meaningless incidents so that random people could read about them and think to themselves, “That's interesting,” even though it was neither interesting or relevant to their own lives. It was dreary, boring work, but Mark did it in the hopes to increase his reputation as a writer so that he may someday finally get published professionally.

At last, Mark came to the train station. It was an elevated wooden platform with one broad set of stairs leading up to a small office, where tickets could be purchased. On the whole, the station looked to be a rickety, unsafe structure what with its peeling paint and old wooden timbers, but after many years of use Mark knew it to be reliable. He rushed up the stairs and surveyed the familiar building as he rubbed his hands together vigorously to eradicate the cold from his fingers. Actually, it wasn't as much of a building as it was just a walled terrace constructed of old boards of cedar that would generally squeak whenever you set foot on one. The ceiling was nonexistent, and Mark sincerely hoped that no raindrops would start to fall, at least until he boarded the train anyway. There was no heating system of any kind in the station, but the walls provided a barrier from the harsh wind that had stung his cheeks so fiercely when he had been walking.

A large group of people had collected on the platform to wait for the train; they had massed themselves near the wall opposite the stairs where there was the least wind. For some reason Mark associated them with a flock of penguins, huddling close to each other for warmth. Mark pushed this odd thought out of his head as he strode over to join them. Directly in front of the congregation of bodies was a deep rut that ran the length of the station. The rut was about four feet deep and the same width. In the rut were set the train tracks. The rut was built so that passengers could board the train more easily; the door to the passenger cars were set quite high for some reason of which Mark had never discovered, though he found himself thinking about it absentmindedly quite often. Mark reached the mass of bodies and tried to squeeze himself deeper into the crowd, but to no avail. After a moment of wrestling with the mass of bodies he found himself standing on the perimeter of the group, next to the rut. Emblazoned on the ground at his feet was a thick red line that bordered the rut. The line was hardly visible, years of trampling feet has faded the once bright paint. The line was there to dissuade passengers from standing too close to the edge of rut, to avoid possible casualties of people falling in.

Mark checked his watch once more. Seven twenty-nine. There were two trains that serviced the station. The first did not stop at this station, it only serviced the major stations in London, skipping the minor ones. The second train stopped at all the stations; it was the one that Mark was waiting for so eagerly. The first train was much faster if you were lucky enough to live near one of the more busy stations, which, unfortunately, Mark did not. The first train would pass them at one thirty. Mark strained his ears for the familiar whistle that would signal the coming of the train. The second train was always not far behind the first, and a shudder past through Mark's body at the thought of a warm passenger car.

Without warning, a high pitched, loud noise rang out through the station. Mark turned, as did many others, at the noise to see that it was the scream of a little girl of perhaps five or six years of age that had fallen into the rut. Rarely did people fall into the rut; this was actually the first time Mark had seen it occur. The reason for the girl's trip Mark did not know, he only turned in time to see her clutching her knee and crying. She was wearing a dress that was a light shade of pink under her jacket, and the blond hair that emerged from under her cap was curly to where it ended past her shoulders.

An old women wearing a very large, ostentatious hat, presumably the girl's grandmother, was kneeling on the edge of the rut, beckoning to the girl with an outstretched arm. The girl was oblivious to her grandmother however; she could not hear her over her own sobs. The little girl continued to cry in the rut and make a scene, and Mark found himself wishing that she would stifle herself long enough to hear her grandmother and let the old lady pull her out of the rut.

“Look,” shouted a burly voice with an unknown owner from somewhere to Mark's right, “the train's coming!”

Mark looked to his left where the stairs were instead of a wall and sure enough, a cloud of black smoke was evident over the rooftops of the nearby buildings. The train was not just coming, it was close!

Suddenly something compelled Mark to leap down into the rut. This was a very odd action, as it went against all his reason and common sense. His mind was screaming not to, to let someone else be the hero, but his body did not obey. Mark never did things like this, he was not a very dramatic person. Except, apparently, on this occasion.

He could remember his feet hitting the bottom of the rut. The many voices of the anxious bystanders penetrated his hearing, but he hardly noticed them. He was no longer thinking about the irrationality of his decision; in fact, he was not thinking about anything. His mind had gone completely blank; the only thing that still had any meaning to him was the little girl sitting on the train tracks. The child had stopped crying and looked up at him as he hurried toward her. He grabbed her around her petite waist and picked her up. He turned to hand the child back to her grandmother. The girl let out another high pitched cry as she was nearly yanked from his hands. Mark turned around as a cuss word flew through his mind and saw with horror that the girl's shoelace had gotten caught on the end of one of the wood beams that supported the rails. He set the girl down and grabbed the shoelace.

A loud, shrill whistle pierced the clamor of the crowd, but Mark did not look up to see the train. The violent vibrations of the rails under his feet told him how far away the train was. It would be less than a minute before it would arrive and blast him into oblivion if he didn't act fast enough. After giving the shoelace a few hefty yanks, he gave up on it and pulled the shoe off of the girl as fast as he could without risking injuring her delicate ankle. He cast the shoe away from the rails so the train would not hit it, and then turned back to the girl. He only had a few precious seconds left. He grabbed the girl and lobbed her up to her grandmother, who caught her and stepped back from the rut, cradling the child in her arms. It was a reckless maneuver, but there wasn't time for Mark to be gentler.

The train was imminent; the rails were shaking vehemently. Mark threw himself at the wall of the rut, and his fingers just barely caught the edge. He felt multiple hands grasp his wrists, though he did not count their number. He was hefted out of the rut just as the train tore past him, causing his clothes to thrash about him.

Mark heaved himself off the ground. A sudden sense of fatigue had come over him and a deep sigh erupted from his lips. He was still not fully aware of what was happening. People were clapping him on the back; it was almost enough to knock him over. He could not believe what had just happened. He had saved a life. He had saved another person's life! That thought sent him spiraling back into awareness.

“Good job!”

“A real gentleman.”

“The world needs more men like you, sir.”

Mark nodded politely as he was bombarded with compliments and gratitude. At first he stood rooted to the spot. But then a voice gave him the motivation to move.

“Where is he? Where is the man that saved my granddaughter?” The old, scratchy voice bested all the others, both in volume and in meaning to Mark. Mark turned his head and saw the old woman with the flamboyant hat. She was pushing her way through the crowd, glancing around wildly. She clutched her granddaughter's hand in what Mark assumed would be a vise-like, clammy grip.

Her voice gave Mark a motive to move. He took a step, but not toward her. He was moving the opposite direction. First one step, then another. He carefully wound his way between the people, between the voices. The woman spotted him.

“Hey, you!” she called at him, but he did not turn. His gait grew faster. He was jogging, running, then sprinting away from the woman and the girl. He flew down the stairs, and the boards screeched in a fashion that sounded as though they would snap under his thundering feet.

He was back on the street. His shoes splashed through puddles on the road, causing a cascade of water to erupt around his feet. He was sure that he woman was no longer pursuing him, though he still ran as fast as he could. The world blurred around him, though not moving as fast as the thoughts that raced through his through his consciousness. He didn't want recognition. He didn't want to be in papers or on the radio. He didn't want the fame that the woman wanted to give him. The woman and the girl would remember him for a long time, but they would never know who he was. In their memory he would be no more than a kind stranger who crossed their paths once.

Mark turned sharply down an alley and stopped to catch his breath leaning on the side of a weathered brick building. He put his hands on his knees and leaned over, panting. His mind was drowning in his own thoughts . No one would ever know him by his bravery and heroism, and that was the way he wanted it.

And then the rain started to fall.





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PJD17 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm
good work  keep it up  could you please check out and comment on my story Manso's Shame
 
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