Joe is sitting in the chair by my hospital bed seemingly asleep when I open my eyes. I stare at him undisturbed for a moment, before he wakes up and everything between us changes. His face is bruised and cut from the glass that showered us, his bottom lip is split and he has a bandage on his right wrist. He is pale with blotches of colour that indicate before the crash his complexion was smooth, rosy and healthy. His hair is mousy brown, tousled and covered in dust and debris. His clothes too are dusty and there are dried patches of blood in places. His blood or mine, I'm not sure.
He looks as if he was treated in A&E before coming straight to my bedside. He doesn't know me, as I do not know him, yet he was the first thing on my mind when I woke up in this dimly lit hospital room. He is the person I feel closest to but I don't stop to ask myself why. Joe is here and that's all that matters.
"Hey you" I croak.
His eyes snap open instantly and he beams at me. His face is something entirely different when he smiles. He has soft green eyes that crinkle at the sides when he grins and I'm sure they are the kind of eyes that smile at you even when his mouth doesn't. There are freckles on his nose and he has happy wrinkles on his forehead, the kind that are caused by an expressive face. Gingerly I reach up and touch the only wrinkle I have so far, the worst type; the deep groove next to my right eyebrow to show I am a frowner. The mark of a misery guts my mother used to call it. Sitting here with Joe Bailey I am more aware of it than I have ever been in my life.
"I've been waiting ages for you to wake up sweetheart." His voice brings forth the safe feeling he gave me in the tunnel and I sigh with relief.
"What time is it?" I ask feebly.
"Just after midnight. They said I could stay until you woke up."
I should be questioning why a stranger is so concerned about me but suddenly it seems to be the only thing that has felt right for a long time. I try to sit up but pain and an awful sick feeling swallows me whole and I give up with a little cry. I stare at the ceiling through a film of tears, feeling sorry for myself and shocked at how fragile I actually am.
"You lost three pints of blood on the train." He pulls his chair closer and takes my hand in his like he did in the blackness. "You have a twisted lacerated ankle which they stitched up, concussion, whiplash and thirty stitches in the gash down your left side. They think you were thrown against the window in the crash."
"What about you?" I ask fearfully.
"Mild concussion, whiplash and a sprained wrist, plus numerous cuts and bruises, they picked shit-loads of glass out of us both." He smiles as if it is nothing and leans forward to stroke my hair from my face. "They said with rest you can go home in a few days."
"What the hell happened?"
"The train derailed at 50mph; twenty injured including us, one critical and three dead including the train driver. The police said he has a wife and four children."
We sit in silence. I am shaken by this information and shamed. People died on the train, people with lovers and children who were waiting for them to come home. The driver had probably been counting the minutes for his shift to finish so he could go home. Was he looking forward to kissing his wife and kids and settling down with his dinner and a cup of tea in front of the telly, completely unaware that he would never see his family again? When he'd kissed them goodbye that morning, had he kissed them properly, or had he hurried from the house without a backward glance? Did he live with the belief we carry on until we chose, and that fate does not rip us apart in the blink of an eye? Or did he know that each day can be our last and made sure he kissed them like he would not see them again?
While I sat on the train and bleated about how unfair life was, how empty and defeated I had become, while I wallowed in my self-pity, other people died in the terrifying inky darkness. Parents and siblings, children and spouses, were crying now for their loved ones who had died somewhere in the same train as me and all I had done was wish God would take away the precious gift of life. Well he had, but again it wasn't mine he chose to take. Joe sits next to me having put my welfare above his own and I wonder if I deserve it.