On the train to Cornwall, two posh teenagers, brother and sister, are waved off at Plymouth by their dad. The boy starts complaining about the state of the seats, claims he can smell vomit in a carrier bag. He chucks it into another seat, moves to a table closer to me. My heart sinks.
Their voices are loud with privilege and inheritance and they’re as expensively dressed. The boy’s wired. From vomit he switches to the announcements and for a moment is quite funny as he mimics a conductor’s increasingly desperate attempts to enforce the no smoking rule. But the humour’s brief. The two of them pull out of nowhere – it sounds like a private joke – a psychotic conversation about murder, torture and genocide of children.
Between Saltash and Liskeard they start to roll a joint. The sister doesn’t actually know how. She’s bluffing a lot and talking about the long rizlas she’s found, her arms wide, like the clichéd angler. They seem to have an odd relationship for brother and sister. Rizlas are mentioned several times a minute. Daddy by now must be back with his second wife. I’m speculating. There was something about his set smile that suggested relief.
Momentarily, they’re sweet in their naivity, desperation to shock. Mum’s mentioned. I was right. They’re going back to mum and the boy says we can get some of mum’s, meaning marijuana, remember she’s an alcoholic, he says.
How sad for these two kids, travelling between parents on a Sunday night with their packets of sandwiches, in the rain and back to whatever domestic arrangements she has. Not even the privilege suggested by the boy’s arrogance, clothes and accent, has protected him from this journey and the anger that straightens the peak of his cap. The two of them thrown into a relationship that borders on boyfriend/girlfriend rather than brother/sister.
They’re making a seven course meal of the joint. The boy’s ‘arsing’ and ‘shitting’ to try and up the shock value but the carriage is studiously unaffected. The announcer tells us we’re arriving at Bodmin and still the joint’s under construction, but one rizla’s torn and another’s been wrecked by water on the table.
She’s ‘arsing’ too and he’s talking to her, I imagine, in the way his father speaks to him when he’s trying to explain a problem. He’s holding the joint in the air for the carriage to see, while delivering a commentary on a woman walking along the platform with her case on wheels. Disgusting, he says and comments on a man’s weight. They’re talking more like brother and sister now, almost squabbling about the sister’s bodged second joint.
I’m wondering if they’ll be off to the loo to smoke them or if they’ll wait until they get off the train, hanging around for mum. By Par (for Newquay) they’re onto paedophilia and the story of a girl at school who had an affair with a teacher. The boy tries to make a joke of it but their heart’s not in it. They knew the girl. They say her name.
The sister goes to the loo. By St Austell they’ve run out of anything to say. The carriage is silent. They’re riding Cornwall’s spine on a Sunday evening when they’d probably rather be with friends, anything. The journey unravels back to the moment they got on and I can see now their father’s enforced jollity, over-compensating discipline, played out in the construction of the joint – boy and girl transformed into mum and dad – until they exhaust themselves and the train’s rhythm calms them back to themselves, the damp green outside softening the light between stations, becoming a ballad of home and simpler evenings before divorce and the intricacies of rizlas, all that rests on a teenager’s ability to roll a perfect joint, to forgive his parents.