About a week ago something lovely happened as I sat on the train home after a long, hard day. To provide some context: I was tired, hungry, and only just overcoming a five-day cold. My fellow commuters and I sat zombie-eyed in grey worlds of our own, thinking about plans for tomorrow or dinner or whether to do the ironing now or later or maybe just thinking about nothing at all.
We’ve all been there.
I was startled from a daydream by the loud and excited shouting of an adorable little girl just a few seats up from me. She had wiry red hair in a round, frizzy ponytail and wore a bright red plastic rain jacket and polka dot gumboots (for jumping in puddles, of course!). I never knew her name but it must have been Eliza for I can’t think of a name that would have suited her better. She was kneeling on her seat, her squishy freckled nose pressed up against the window on the train’s ocean side.
It was – is – my favourite part of the journey home. There’s this perfect one-minute window between Middle Brighton and Brighton Beach stations where from the train’s elevated position on the coast, I see this extraordinary pool of water that’s as wide as it is deep to the slanted horizon. Not once has it been the same. Sometimes it’s flat and the type of blue you’d expect a child to colour-in. There might be ripples, or whitecaps – you never know – and sometimes there are boats but more often than not it’s completely alone, except for my train. I’ve seen it grey and green and even pink and orange. Once it was pink and orange all swirled together like fairy floss and that was prettier than anything you could imagine. When it’s raining and dark I find it kind of scary, but the next morning it’s calm and rested, like me. I often wonder whether a sunset or it’s reflection on the ocean is more beautiful. Although I guess you can’t have the sunset’s reflection without the sunset in the first place so it’s a no brainer, really. I know this paragraph is the corniest thing you’ve ever read but please do me a favour and try writing a paragraph about the ocean without being corny.
Anyway, this dear little girl was looking out at the ocean, which, for the first time, I came quite close to forgetting about for being so tired. She was tugging at her mother’s denim sleeve, exclaiming through delighted squeals: “Mum, look! Look, mum! There’s mermaids! There’s really mermaids! Did you see them? Look! I see a fairy now, mummy! A fairy!”
“Did you see a fairy, darling?”
“No, I think it was just a mermaid. Silly me! It really was a very pretty mermaid, mummy.”
I caught eye contact with the tired man directly across from me, and we shared a smile. As the little girl continued on about the mermaids, I continued smiling. And as I scanned across the carriage, I saw that everyone else was smiling too (all but one young man who was fast asleep behind his headphones). What a small but perfect moment of joy it was, and how precious to have shared it with complete strangers. I cycled home from the station warm as honey.
I’ve taken that same train home every weeknight since, and I can’t look out at the ocean without seeing the mermaids. Thank-you, darling Eliza – if not for you, I’d never have noticed them!
Note: The beach photographed isn’t the one I’ve written about, but I figure all beaches are part of the same ocean. Plus, it’s too beautiful a photograph not to share.