The first time they met they merely greeted each other with a nod. He sat across the aisle on the train. Handsome man, dark curly hair, crisp black suit.
She was so different from anyone he had ever met. About his own height, wearing a long black skirt and a purple coat. The steward had lifted her suitcase in the luggage rack before she took off her coat and sat down. Two very different people, in the first class carriage on the train.
From behind his book he dared observe her. She was ever so friendly when coffee and food was served. The cabin was filled with business men, like him. She looked so out of place. And yet it didn’t seem to bother her at all.
A month later they were on the same train again. She smiled at him when he beat the steward to lifting her suitcase. He wore a wedding ring. Damn, she thought. The good ones were always married. Well, what did she expect at her age. “Thank you.” She said as he sat back down. “Anytime.” He had a warm baritone voice.
The third time, another month had passed, she sat opposite of him, with a small table in between. This round she wore a long dark black dress. Her dress style made her look like a witch. A good witch though.
“We meet again.” She said kindly.
“Indeed. It’s becoming a regular thing.”
She said something about the book he was reading. Then apologised. “I should let you get on with it.”
“Not at all. Not often my Friday night commute is interrupted by such charming company.” He really did have a cute smile. He could see she was about to introduce herself. He stopped her. “No reality.” He cut her off.
Frowning she looked at him. “I work in a dull office all week. On Friday night I travel back home to my family. And this fairy shows up every month…”
“Four weeks.” She corrected him.
“Every four weeks. Lilly. I think your name should be Lilly.”
“Okay.” She accepted. She could live with that. It should be odd. But she was used to people responding to her presence in odd ways. “And I’d take you for a Tim.”
“Tim. Cool. Well, Lilly, I’m Tim. Pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand, she took it. He had a firm handshake.
That’s how it had began. Lilly and Tim, meeting on the train every four weeks.
During the next journeys he told her all about his family. It was a long journey from London to Edinburgh. Lilly in return told him she worked in London for three consecutive weeks and then went back to visit her elderly mother.
He showed her pictures of his life. His real life. And through the pictures and stories, she saw his children grow up.
Three years into their fling, that’s what Lilly called it, her mother passed away. She kept making the journey up to Edinburgh though. Even if only to catch up with Tim. And she still had an apartment there.
There were men in her life. Somehow nothing stuck though. She knew she treated Tim as substitute for a partner. They told each other everything, on those long train journeys. Things he wouldn’t even tell his wife.
Tim was well aware that his business with Lilly was more than just strangers on a train. Often it felt like they had an affair. Although they didn’t do anything more than hug upon getting on the train and getting off. In Edinburgh on the platform their ways parted. She didn’t know where he lived. Neither did he from her. The anonymity, it felt right.
Due to vacations they sometimes missed each other. Always announced though.
For years they had their railway affair. Talking, laughing together. Tim’s curly hair had gone grey. His daughters had grown up and were facing graduation.
Lilly’s young face showed a few lines. Her hair had regularly changed colour, Tim didn’t know which one was real. Probably they all were. What had remained was her bohemian style of dressing. More often than not he saw the people around them expecting her to be thrown out of the cabin. She wasn’t first class material. She was so unlike anyone else he knew. Maybe that was what attracted him to her. Her outlandish views on the world. Her warmth and kindness. So different from his wife. He loved his wife very much, but she could be cold and stoic on occasion. In that respect he sometimes wondered if Lilly was the very reason his marriage still worked.
For nearly fourteen years they met on the train. Once a month. For Tim his weekly commute, for Lilly her four weekly visit to her Edinburgh home. And then suddenly Lilly was alone. She got on the train, he wasn’t there to haul her suitcase in the rack. The train left and she wondered where he was. Unexpected holiday perhaps? It was his wedding anniversary next week. She tried not to fret about it. He’d tell her next time, she thought.
But then he was missing again. It was a long journey without the distraction of Tim’s company. He wouldn’t have been fired, she figured. And he would try to at least catch up with her if anything of the sort had happened. Four and a half hours was a long time for an idle mind. All kinds of scenarios passed in her imagination. Why wouldn’t he just look her up? He could in London. Or on the platform on Edinburgh. He really owed her that, didn’t he? He’d been her best friend for all these years. The only one she could talk to.
When he wasn’t there a third time, she knew more drastic measures were needed. She’d have to check if he was okay.
Determined she took out her phone to search the web for him. Facebook, Twitter, anything.
Staring at the blinking cursor in the search window the horrible truth sunk in with her. They’d been friends for so incredibly long. Tim and Lilly. They had bared their souls to each other. And she didn’t even know his real name.