The Passenger

It is said that one must travel to find oneself but, for Mrs. Matilda Maycroft, it was quite the opposite.

For the first time in 40 years, Tilly, as she preferred to be called, was alone. Her brilliantly successful and loving husband had died unexpectedly from post-surgical complications following a routine hernia repair. Within weeks of his death, she sold their elegant London home, the property in Spain, their two luxury cars and everything else that, without her beloved Albert, meant nothing to her.

Stripped of all the excesses that had provided the props for her life as Mrs. Maycroft, she found herself surprisingly whole and intact and, with no more than the contents of two modest suitcases by her side, she realized she’d never felt more content. On a fresh morning in May, she boarded a train for Leicester. The following day she continued west to Shropshire. By the end of the week she found herself in Bangor, Wales …

Tilly continued to zig-zag her way across Britain over the next few months. Randomly picking destinations, she hopped on and off trains at will, travelling and lodging without discomfort or deprivation wherever she went. Day after day, she watched the scenery slide effortlessly past train windows; it was as mesmerizing as it was addictive. From the velvety green fields and fairy tale villages of the Cotswolds to intimate, uninvited glimpses into the walled backyards of factory workers’ council houses, the unfolding panoramas never tired her. She shared carriages with gentlemen whose noses were buried in newspapers; youngsters, whose attentions were completely absorbed by their mobile devices; working women who closed their eyes hoping to steal a quick nap before arriving home to cope with teatimes and children. But Tilly, always travelling forwards, never took her eyes off the scenery.

Nine years later, Tilly is still riding the trains … long distance trains, overnight sleepers, commuter trains, branch line shuttles … she loves them all. There are smooth trains and rattling trains, pristine carriages and littered ones, some that smell newly polished and others whose upholstery wears the musty odours dropped off by hundreds of previous damp, hot, snacking, smoking, stressed, intoxicated and weary ticket holders.

Over the years, there have been times when, arriving somewhere at the end of a particularly long journey, she would tell herself that perhaps it was time to settle down. She’d stay a few weeks, dutifully exploring every inch of her potential new home but, inevitably the static view from the hotel window and the rigid four walls of her room would soon stifle her. With great relief, she’d hop the next train out of there to anywhere else.

For Tilly, the departure is the best part of the journey. She knows that without leaving, you can’t possibly arrive somewhere else. She seldom looks back at the shrinking landscape scurrying away behind her; it lets go of her as quickly as she lets go of it. Gleefully, she surrenders to the seductive pull of whatever may be around the next bend.

Abandoning the beautiful Lake District for now, there’s a quick change in Carlisle and then north all the way to the Scottish Highlands …

She won’t be pulling into the final station anytime soon.