Stella’s thick black hair momentarily obscured the unpaved footpath. Another April gusty breeze sent the fringe in the other direction but not in time to avoid the muddy puddle. Conscious now of a stain that would ruin her best pantsuit she avoided looking down. She wouldn’t have been able to see much past the bundle in one arm and the heavy khaki carry bag over the other anyway. ‘Can my day get any worse?’ she mumbled.
Oblivious of the people bustling around her, Stella again focused on one thing…to get onto that train; her only escape.
Entering a short, almost empty tunnel the clicking of her heels on the concrete floor motivated her to walk faster. She dared a quick glance over her shoulder. Feeling only slightly easier, she turned a sharp right onto a crowded platform. Side stepping suitcases and groups of passengers that chatted and laughed, she kept going until she found an empty bench seat at the far end of the platform where she would be able to embark closest to the guard’s carriage.
The bundle stirred as Stella sat and eased the heavy bag from her sore shoulder. ‘Not long now, little one.’ She reached into the bag for a pacifier. Sucking was instant. Stella’s attention returned to her surroundings.
In a few short minutes, everyone had hushed and turned to face the approaching train. Returning the bag to her shoulder she stood carefully so not to lose grip of her precious bundle. Once the train had stopped completely, she stepped forward to board the carriage. Someone touched her elbow. Panic filled her until she realised that it was a short, pump woman dressed in very plain old fashion clothing. Around her neck hung a chunky cross on a simple chain.
‘Let me help with that.’ The woman took the bag without waiting for an answer.
‘Thank you, ‘Stella answered as calmly as she could before she stepped across the gap and followed the woman to a seat at the rear of the carriage. ‘Thank you,’ she said again before sitting beside her.
Stella moved the baby to the other arm to relieve the ache that had reached the point of stiffness and also to let the kind woman see her baby. ‘Thank you,’ she said, knowing she had repeated herself again.
The warm smile made Stella feel more relaxed than she had been since the day before but still kept alert of what was happening around them.
‘I’m Sister Anna Teresa, but you can call me Teresa. It’s actually what my father called me.’
‘It’s good to meet you Teresa. I’m Stella… or Stel for short,’ she added with a smile.
‘Such a sweet baby.’ The words were tender.
‘Would you like to hold her,’ Stella asked.
‘Oh, could I?’ Teresa handed Stella the bag and reached over to accept the baby. ‘She’s so tiny. Must be a newborn.’
Stella searched the bag for the items she needed to prepare a bottle. ‘Yes…Sarah is a week-old today.’
A whistle blew and the train began to move.
Teresa watched as Stella mixed the powder. ‘Such a shame…’ she said. ‘I mean…’
‘That’s all right. I’m fine about not being able to feed her myself,’ was Stella’s simple reply. ‘Would you like to give her the bottle?’
Teresa’s huge grin was all Stella needed to hand over the little bottle and remove the pacifier. She watched as Sarah sucked furiously bringing laughs from both women.
Looking up, Stella saw the guard making his way through the carriage. She closed her eyes and sighed heavily.
‘Do you have to travel far? Teresa asked carefully.
‘As far as the train goes,’ Stella answered without thinking. ‘I mean…I’m heading back to Bourke.’
‘Such a long trip on your own with one so little.’ Her eyes now fixed on Stella’s.
In that awkward moment she leaned forward and looked down at the blotchy brown marks at the hem of her slacks. She cringed slightly and studied the other passengers in their carriage. Some were involved in conversations, reading or preparing for a snooze. Stella took a deep breath and released it slowly before making an effort to respond. ‘I am alone,’ she whispered. ‘It’s a long story.’
‘We have plenty of time and I’m a good listener…if you want to share.’
With a sense of relief, Stella slowly began her story.
To be continued….
© Chrissy Siggee – 2019