My younger sister and I went to the same boarding school and for years, we would take the same train from London Victoria to our destination. Sometimes, there would be arranged journeys where boarders from all over the world would return from escapades in their respective countries and we would congregate at Victoria where our teachers or house-mistresses would be waiting for us after a long half-term. The two-hour journey would be one where we caught up and found out about each other’s adventures and stories, reluctantly settling in to the idea that school was now back in session. Soon we would be into the routine of “lights out” early in the night and the dreaded morning wake up calls. My house-mistress would have this great big bell which she would clang loudly, screaming, “Good morning, rise and shine” in a shrill voice, opening the curtains and letting the sun in, stinging our eyes.
There was one particular end of term where I would not be going back to boarding school because I had finished and it was time for A-levels at a private college in London where we lived. My mother insisted that when it was time for Ariana to go back to school, I was to make the trip with her and return on the night train. She was fourteen at the time and I was just seventeen. I didn’t share the same idea as my mother. I thought that it was about time for her to make the trip herself. Keep in mind that this wasn’t an organised trip and that she would be making it on her own. The both of us had done this many times already. My sister was extremely sheltered when it came to getting things done for herself. I was the one who always did it for her and my parents expected that of me. It use to upset me but mainly because I felt that she would never learn how to take care of herself if I continued to do it for her. At times, I would push her to do things, like buy tickets or go to the shop on her own. It was a gradual process and so I thought the time had come for her to make the journey back to boarding school on her own. After all, we had made the same journey at least four times a year for the past five years. How could she go wrong? It would be a piece of cake and my mother was just being overprotective.
We traveled on the tube and I got her to the station and bought her the tickets. I went through the entire route and instructions with her umpteen times. I must have said, “Remember, change at Faversham” about six times throughout our journey from our front door to Victoria Station. My sister nodded and said that she had got it but in all honesty, we were both rather pensive about the departure. Also because it would be her first time on her own and we were so close that being apart was difficult. I took her to the platform and put her on the train after I hugged her and kissed her goodbye. The doors were closing and I saw her face. She was worried.
“Change at Faversham!” I shouted. The train started moving and I ran alongside it waving at her. My heart sank and I had a lump in my throat, immediately regretting not going on the journey with her. All the way home, I kept thinking of her and praying that she would be alright and telling myself that it was about time that she did this sort of thing on her own. She was fourteen and it was a journey that she had made over twenty times in her life. I always worried and stressed about her. She was like my child even though, I was still a child myself.
I was watching a show on television, keeping an eye on the time. She was to call me once she got into school. They were going to pick her up from the station at a specific time. The call didn’t come and so we started panicking. My mother started telling me off and saying that I should have gone with her. That she couldn’t do this sort of thing on her own. That she wasn’t like me. I argued back and said that she had to learn and that if they kept sheltering her, she would never function normally in society. Inside, I was dying. Half an hour later, the phone rang but it was not my sister. It was the school, telling me that she was not at the station and that the train had arrived without her on it. I immediately felt sick. My mother was ranting and raving in the background. We waited.
The phone rang again and this time it was my sister and she was crying on the other end. I tried to calm her down, wanting to break down myself.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at a pay phone” she said, crying. “A woman found me and took me here so that I could call you”
“A woman? Which woman? Where are you?”
“She is going to take me to her house”, she added, sobbing.
“What? Let me speak to her. Now!”
After speaking to the woman, I found out that she would be taking my sister to her house in order to wait for her husband who would then take Ariana to the station. They had a boy who was Ariana’s age. She told me that she found my sister crying on the side of the street at a phone booth that wasn’t working and so she offered her help. I also learned that Ariana did not change at Faversham and instead continued on the train to another destination and eventually decided to get off the train when it started to look unfamiliar. I wanted to scream but kept my composure even with my mother running around in the house like a headless chicken.
This was a time where mobile phones were rare. When you made arrangements with people, you showed up. There was no last-minute ‘short message service’ or call to check on where the meeting point was.
The lady that found my sister was an angel. She took her into her home, fed her with warm milk and cookies and when her husband got home, he took her on the train and delivered her personally to the school’s caretaker. We got the call and everything was alright. When my mother asked my sister for the name and address of the family that helped her so that she could send them something as a thank you for saving her child, Ariana simply said that she didn’t know their names nor their address. Till this day, my sister is convinced that they were angels from heaven. I think that they were the finest examples of humanity and I send them love and appreciation wherever they are.