• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 09
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Wearing the Badge

When I boarded the train the carriage was empty and I chose a seat with a table so I could lean on it and stare out of the window.

I loved the bustle and sound of a railway station, watching people depart and arrive, strolling, running, pulling suitcases, hefting backpacks, kissing and waving; the hiss of doors, voices – cheerful or anxious – shouts and whistles.

Thirty minutes later the carriage hummed. Despite the three seats surrounding me, individuals stood in the door well or leaned against the luggage rack avoiding my eyes.

It hurt.

I’m not a machine. I have a heart, and a brain, and feelings.

I understand they are embarrassed, don’t know what to say, and afraid to look at me. So I’m bald. It’s not contagious, I wanted to shout. It’s cancer. But they preferred to stand. I shrugged and ignored them but my throat clogged and my eyes burned.

The last call came from the porter but as the door closed a young woman with two children hurled themselves inside, dragging a case over the step. Hands helped her. Someone hefted the luggage to a space above. The woman glanced at me and I nodded raising three fingers expecting the usual dismissal.

Twin girls in the seat opposite me while the woman slid beside me with a heavy sigh.

The children stared but the woman said nothing. Her head rested on the chair back with eyes closed.


Wearing the Badge

‘My Auntie Nina is bald.’

‘She had cancer.’

‘Is that why you’ve got no hair too?’

‘She wore a wig. Where’s your wig?’

The children’s voices were clear and loud.

The woman turned to me with a grimace. ‘Kids. They’d get you hung.’

I grinned and opened a bag of sweets. Normal.