School Assignment – a short story

My granddad used to show me pictures of this place all the time. Either the pictures were lying, or I’m at the wrong station. This place barely looks anything like Granddad’s old books. For one, it’s all in colour, and for another, no bloody trains. I could’ve just stayed in my room and examined all this with Google Maps; the teachers would be none-the-wiser. But no, Granddad had to insist I come here and look at it all for real, “really take it all in”, he’d tell me, “there’s stories buried on them platforms.” Well, I really do believe this place, just like the rest of Hull, sucks.

Down where the railway line used to be, with both platforms either side, it’s now just an overgrown footpath. Weeds claw their way up from underneath and wrap themselves around the concrete where you’re supposed to walk. If this place couldn’t survive as a station, how’s it meant to last as somewhere to walk along, when you’ve got all this crap hanging around it? You can’t even walk along the platforms properly. The left one’s got trees and bushes that try to push you off as you walk, and the right one is just lost in all the green crap. You can smell it all as well, the green stuff’s got that savouriness to it, you don’t even have to touch it to get stung, you can feel the inside of your nose stinging as you sniff.

And it’s all mixed together with that vomity sweetness from the obligatory rubbish dotted along the ground, and squashed up against the walls of the platform. There’s some crisp packets, crumpled and sizzling in the Sun, and beer cans that haven’t even started rusting yet, some patches of liquid still visible inside. In one of the old guy’s photos, I spotted some bottles dumped down the platform, where the cans now rest. I suppose we all have to move forward with the times, even the rubbish, but I don’t think Mrs Hoover is going to accept a piece on “station rubbish from the ages”.

Apparently, this place used to be some kind of passenger service, one of several dotted around the city. Granddad would show me books full of photos that had steam engines rattling through this little station, which, while narrow on the platforms, used to stretch so much it would curve and you couldn’t see where it’d end. And now look at it, just a couple of concrete slabs, and no trains running through them.

The platforms don’t even curve anymore; you can see where they stop stretching and where some houses begin. They all look fairly modern, you can spot three all huddled up together, with titled roofs and four windows each on the front. You can see the sunlight bouncing off the glass. It looks like they’ve permanently cut off the old so it doesn’t have to blend in with the new, and that the new have joined forces against the old, ready to spring into action should the weed grow any closer.

The only building that looks like anything in Granddad’s pictures is the station house itself, all done up in red tiles and white window arches. Looks alright, but also looks like it’s all blocked off. Iron railings run along the edge of the platform, so you can’t even wander along the building and peep inside the windows to see what’s going on. You’d think they’d re-open it as a museum, or something boring like that.

I drag myself onto the left-hand platform and squat as comfortably as possible, the keys in my back pocket digging into my arse cheek. I plunge into my bag and dig out the notebook I’ve brought with me. As I draw the book out and onto my lap, an old couple cycle past me, nattering away. They’re wearing horridly 90’s coloured coats and their heads are trapped in cycle helmets. I open the book at a freshly blank page, and scuttle around in the bag once more for a pen.

Oh, for God’s sake. Where’s that sodding pen? I swear I put one in here! Bollocks. Well, this was a waste of a morning. I could just twat that nearby bird with my notebook. I fling the book to one side, and stare round at this barren place. A bunch of scruffy blokes come wandering up the path from the main street where the road runs alongside, unshaven faces, greasy hair, and tracksuit bottoms tucked into their socks. Maybe they’ve got a pen between them? Oh, maybe not. On closer inspection, I guess they’ve not got room for a pen for all those beer cans and fags they’ve got glued to their hands. It’s only half eleven!

They sludge past me and convene at the end of the platform, just between where it ends and the small clumps of trees begin that protect the modern family homes from coming into contact with this grotty place. I look up at the near-by traffic, zooming away. Here, it’s instantly peaceful, the walkway bridge that once stood just at the edge of the footpath now replaced by trees and bushes, which lurch in such a way that they mimic the shape of the bridge. Certainly looks prettier than the bridge in Granddad’s photos. The graininess of those old pictures makes the bridge look bloody ancient. Now, it just looks a lot nicer, all leafy and fresh, with the wind tickling it.

Ergh, Christ that stinks! I look round and those blokes have lighted up some new cigarettes, tobacco smoke trailing everywhere. I can hear them slurping on their cans all the way up here. Don’t those twats have anything better to do? I wave away as much of the stench as possible, and shuffle up along the station. At least steam train smoke’s got some usefulness to it. It shows the train’s doing its thing. Tobacco just screws your lungs up.

Another cyclist trundles past. He looks like he might’ve been born on a bike. He’s clad in tight, spandex clothes, silver sunglasses, and thin gloves as he grips the handlebars. He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t even slow down as he spills out into the street, glancing left and right, then charging across the road onto the further footpath, passing that old pub, ‘The Station’.

I can’t help but feel as if I’d be doing everyone a favour if I just grab those blokes, still smoking and slurping away, and just chuck them across the road into that pub. They don’t even have to land in the pub itself, I’d be more than happy to just chuck them across the road, as long as they bugger off. But there’s no-one else around here that may applaud my actions, it’s just me and those blokes.

Oh, they’re wandering off now, back into the sewers they slithered out from, perhaps? Nope, they’re off in the other direction, towards those nice-looking houses. They don’t live there of all places, do they? If the trains were still going they’d sort those guys out no problem, especially as they’re all more or less slugging along the middle of the footpath.

So, what can I write about for school? Well, nothing. I’ve got no bloody pen. What do you write about when you don’t have a bloody pen? Still, it’s not all bad. All the greenery looks bright and fluffy, there’re no prickly things as far as I can see. The platform on the other side is just totally overgrown, I remember Granddad showing me pictures of both platforms, and that one had a little hut on it. No hut there now though, just lots of fluffy green. It almost looks like you could go snuggle into the stuff and have a snooze.

This is getting me nowhere. To be honest, I can just memorize all I’ve seen so far and get it down on paper once I’m back home. Hope I remember it all. I jump off the platform and let out a smothered burst of relief as the keys in my back pocket release themselves from my arse. Why didn’t I just take them out and stuff them in my bag? Well, I might’ve missed those blokes walking off, or might’ve failed to spot that old couple trundling along, or I might not have noticed those bridge-shaped branches.

I wander back along the footpath towards the street. The sounds of the city already tear through the trees. I might come to Stepney station more often.

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