It's been barely six hours since I departed the mild autumn of an Algarve morning but it seems an eternity now. I am stood on Central Station Railway in Wales and snow is swirling about at the whim of winds whipped up by the fabric of the station buildings; ominously, it has begun to settle and an announcement cancelling the last train is looking more and more like a certainty.
Ill prepared for such circumstance, the last few miles of my journey home now seem beyond reach so, with my hands and feet numb with the cold, I look around for some kind of sanctuary 'til my gaze rests upon a platform sign which reads 'Waiting Room'.
I push open the door and step inside. A rush of sensations begin to compete for my attention, and I spend a few short moments separating them out. The room is panelled in hardwood, a walnut burr, and the floor is linoleum, shiny with a lifetime of lavender polish and a perfume that almost overpowers the senses. Wooden benches of great age line stiff backed along the walls, inviting me to the pot bellied stove at the far end of the room, alive with a fire dancing bright with wood and coal. I make for the bench nearest the fire.
I spend a few moments in the glow of the fire, and as the chill in my bones eases I sit back and reflect on my predicament for a while. As I sit here it suddenly occurs to me that I am alone. There was no-one else on the platform waiting for that last train, which seems odd, but I dismiss it with the thought that people would have had plenty of time during the day to make other arrangements. After all, not everyone has just arrived from sunnier climes.
As the minutes tick by, my eyes begin to close with the tiredness of travel and the warmth of the fire, 'til an icy blast of air and a flurry of snow erupt from the waiting room door as it is pushed open. In walks a young girl, maybe eight or nine years of age who comes and sits opposite me, gesturing open hands toward the fire. I nod a slight hello which she returns with a quick smile, before we both retreat behind our personal defences.
Her attention held by the fire, I allow myself a few quick glimpses of the company I now find myself in, and immediately have trouble reconciling what I see. She is wearing a gingham dress under an old cardigan, too small; a hand me down frayed at the elbow and cuffs. Below her knees, grazed with play, her socks are crumpled and loose with age, and she is wearing plastic sandals, worn at the heel.
With no protection against the cold she should be shivering and distressed, but on the contrary she does not seem to seek the fire, her gaze one merely of abstract interest. Absently, she turns her plaited hair around one finger, then another. I am now transfixed and jump physically as she turns her head and I find her eyes burning into mine.
"Hello Bleddyn, you don't remember me then?" Her smile cannot mask the pain in her eyes. Dumbstruck I shake my head, but even as I make the gesture the truth dawns. I begin to speak but before I can say anything she places a finger over her lips.
"Yes, friends forever, remember? I'm sorry I had to leave you all those years ago, pneumonia is such a nuisance, but it's so long ago and anyway, it's your time now and I'm here to bring you home. Come, close your eyes and let's be going"