At the Gare St. Charles in Marseilles, France

Saint Charles Train Station, Marseilles, France
Saint Charles Train Station, Marseilles, France

For photo source, click here

It occurred to her that spending the night alone at the Marseilles train station was not a great idea.  There were no accommodations for sleeping.  Not that it mattered, since she had no money to pay for a room in any case. She had just enough money for bus fare to Aix-en-Provence, where she lived.  The next bus, though, did not leave until 6:00 a.m.  It was now around 1:00 a.m. The train from Florence had just deposited her at the Gare St. Charles.

She gathered up her backpack, walked to a corner of the outdoor terrace and sat down on the ground near the fence.  It was dark out, and the only illumination was that coming from the twinkling lights from the surrounding city.  Fortunately, she was not tired, and she resolved to stay awake all night.  As she searched through her backpack for her paperback copy of Stendhal, three men walked over towards her.

They were young, probably in their twenties, dressed in t-shirts, jeans, and leather jackets.  They were laughing with each other, making jokes in a language she couldn’t understand.    She prayed they would sit far away from her, but instead they sat down in a semi-circle near her.  Her heart started beating faster.

One of the men took out a cigarette, lit it with his lighter, and offered her one.  “Vous voulez-fumer?” he asked.  His fingernails were clean and well-groomed.

“No, merci,” she said.  She did not want a cigarette.  She wanted them to leave her alone.

“Vous est Francaise?” the one with the beard asked her.  He smiled in a way that did not make her feel easy.

“No, je suis Americaine.”

“Ah,” he nodded.

They did not take their eyes off of her the whole time.  They continued to talk to each other in a language she couldn’t quite catch.  Were they from Yugoslavia?  Were they planning to rob her?  Damn, she was such an idiot.  She had left her friends in Florence to come back to her dorm earlier than planned because she had run out of money.  She was a college student, and she did not have a credit card with her.

Were they planning to rob her?  One good thing about this situation, she thought, was that she had nothing on her worth stealing.  She hoped they could sense that.  But maybe they had other plans for her?  Or maybe they were just being sociable.  She shouldn’t worry so much.

But she was worried.  She felt tense, like she was being surrounded by wolves.

She looked around the terrace to see if anybody else was around.  Yes, there was another person walking towards them in the dim light.   As he came closer, she saw that he was tall, red-haired and bearded.  He was wearing green khaki jacket and pants and looked like he hadn’t had a shower in a few days.   Her fear started to heighten. But then he opened his mouth.

“Do you speak English?” he asked, in the friendliest Irish voice she had ever heard.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

“Do you mind if I join you?” he asked

“Not all,” she said.

“Name’s Michael,” he said, as he sat down next to her and the three other men.  They others seemed displeased at the new arrival.  They continued to stare at her, but they seemed less confident of themselves.  They weren’t bantering as much, and they now spoke in lower tones.

“What’s a man got to do around here to get a good beer?  I haven’t had a decent Guinness in ages!” said Michael, as he settled in against the fence with his own backpack.

She could not explain why, but the presence of this newcomer, this Michael, calmed her down.  Maybe it was the way he grinned, maybe it was his friendly chatter, or maybe it was just her intuition, but she felt less afraid.

As the night wore on, her intuition proved right.  Michael stayed by her for the night, keeping her awake and alert with his chatter about the places he’d seen as a merchant mariner.  The more he talked, the less the others talked, until finally they drifted off to sleep.

It felt like she had been sent a protector to keep the wolves at bay.


This post is in response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt:  In Transit.  They asked:

Train stations, airport terminals, subway stops: soulless spaces full of distracted, stressed zombies, or magical sets for fleeting, interlocking human stories?

Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.

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