The doors of the overground carriage shut loudly, isolating me from the still slightly crowded platform at Whitechapel station.
It was already late and I just wanted to go home and sleep.
I was trying to shake off my growing, unexpected uneasiness by staring at my phone and I nearly didn’t notice something was wrong until an emotionless voice stated for the whole train’s benefit: “Stepney Green”.
Wait… That wasn’t the line or even the direction I was supposed to take. I wondered how I could have jumped on the wrong train, but I guessed I hadn’t paid enough attention. I had to go back.
Chuckling inwardly to reassure myself, acknowledging that these things happen, that this was just the harmless result of my lack of sleep, I walked down a few badly lit corridors and waited for a train on a shady platform full of drunk teenagers. I was back to Whitechapel in no time. The platform looked pretty much the same as ten minutes earlier, albeit less crowded.
This time I triple checked I was entering the right overground, a weed-smelling train heading north west. I cautiously took my e-reader from my bag and started to read a nonfiction collection by Neil Gaiman. I let the stations flow past in a blur, losing track of the world around me until Neil Gaiman asked the readers to look around them and observe their surroundings. I lowered my e-reader and looked. That’s when I noticed I was going back to Whitechapel.
Not again? What had happened? Dejected and slightly frightened, with a headache looming over, I got off hastily at Whitechapel and tried to figure out what my options were. It was now too late to take another train. Was the ghost of Jack the Ripper haunting this station? I surfaced under a cloudy night, wanted to call for an Uber, but my battery was out and I couldn’t see any taxis on Mile End.
I took a perpendicular street, which looked older and more unkempt than its neighbour. It was a quaint little thing, cobbled and deserted apart from a quiet stray fox. Nothing there seemed to have been built after 1901 and some window sills were holding drying laundry. Utterly fascinated, I immersed myself in this unusual gas lit atmosphere and followed the fox for a while, until I noticed a decrepit sign adorning what looked like stables: “Sights and Stallions”. Interesting… But I couldn’t think about going home on horseback, could I?
I had mounted a pony once when I was eight and a camel when I was twelve. That was hardly impressive. But did I have any choice? Wasn’t it the time to be bold and daring? I had to try something and didn’t feel like walking home yet.
I knocked at a shabby looking door leading to the brick horse stalls. A tall, bearded man with a top hat opened.
“What do you want, miss?” he asked in what sounded to me as a cliché, Oliver Twist cockney accent.
“Hm, do you, by any chance, provide carriages or horses? I appear to be, ha, stuck here in Whitechapel.”
His genuine laughter, devoid of malice, filled the empty street.
“Sure thing, Belzy will bring you home. Don’t you worry about him, he’ll come back here on his own. And the first mount is free!”
“Thanks a lot! But I…”
“Don’t trouble yourself, he is very kind with everyone.”
This was all very surreal – the stallion was, I could swear, looking at me with a hint of amusement and everything was so out of place. I mounted the horse with indeed very few difficulties and Belzy – was that short for Belzebuth? – seemed to know instinctively where I was going, for he headed almost immediately North West.
After a while though he started to recede, his stride less confident, and he finally turned around. Nothing I could think of doing was working and the horse left me right in front of Whitechapel station.
Would I ever go away?
My heart racing in a panic, I just ran as far as I could, people looking at me weirdly. I stopped to catch my breath, panting, and found myself back to where I started.
I’m writing this on a notebook waiting for the morning train, hoping that this time I’ll manage to get out. I’ll leave this on a train seat and perhaps if I don’t make it, someone else will read it and find me. I’ll be waiting for you in Whitechapel station.