Car 4

Mrs Gerta Fazahi

Outward appearance

Golden coat, matching scarf, small black shoes and bag. Middle aged, carefully groomed. Smiles to herself, shakes her head, and is suddenly laughing and crying at the same time. Hurriedly wipes her face. No one seems to have seen.

Inside information

Teaches Arabic and Hebrew two days a week at Merely College. Her husband Saul, a lecturer at University College, is dying of motor neurone disease.

What she is doing or thinking

Remembering dinner the night before. Saul has been fitted with a vocaliser, a machine that transforms laboriously typed words into sounds. When it speaks, the machine has an American accent. Saul is from Lebanon. The visiting couple were French academics, colleagues who had made a special trip to see Saul before he died.

Saul made light of everything. He started to type in textbook French. The machine burped with an American accent. "Cesste bun, cesste see deliseeox," the machine said. "Jay oon ideeee. Juh voodraize parlezz avek twaaah." The party took Saul through as many languages as they in all their cosmopolitan glory could speak, the funniest being German.

Gerta has just realised that she will never hear Saul's own voice and accent again. He'll still tell jokes. But he's like a tree, falling away leaf by leaf. She wishes it wasn't winter, but spring.

She hears laughter and turns to see a young girl in a red coat, teasing a boy in the next car. Gerta watches them, aching for them. Life is great rolling wheel, moving on. Sometimes it crushes.

Then a drunk vomits. Sometimes you laugh.

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