So I was looking for short stories to enter into a contest yesterday and stumbled upon this, a not-so-fictional entry for a gap year themed competition from years ago. Since I apparently didn’t win, and since I don’t have anything better to write about today, I thought I would share it.

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Middelfart, Norwich and a long ride home

The train pulled out of Norwich station just as I arrived, but that didn’t stop me from running after it. I don’t know what I’d have done, had I somehow managed to match its speed –  the carriages had no platforms onto which I could daringly jump and besides, despite my delusions, I was no Indiana Jones.

My appalling fitness level meant that I hadn’t even made it past the ticket desk by the time the cars were half way to Brandon and so, defeated and miserable, I sank down onto the cold Victorian station floor. That had been the last connecting train to Peterborough that I could have caught to make the GNER for Aberdeen. There was no way that I could be at my parents’ tonight.

True – nothing was stopping me from returning to my Norwich flat, but my Nan had just died, and I was hundreds of miles away from family, isolated and alone.

At least I’m not in Denmark, I thought to myself. At least this isn’t as bad as the time I got stuck in Middelfart.

Middelfart, as it happens, is a rather pretty place despite its tragically comic name. I had been trying to get to the ferry terminal in Esbjerg for the better half of the day, however the clock in the drivers cabin had been an hour too slow, due to daylight savings, and I had been duly late for any connections.

I reached into my pocket and blew my nose – the year I’d spent on the Danish-German border seemed a lifetime away now, stuck in drizzling February Norwich. Feeling as helpless and as homesick as I did just then, I began to doubt whether the whole thing had really happened. There was no way that this sullen little girl, folded into a grotty anorak on the station floor, could possibly have had the balls to move to a country where she knew only enough of the language to demand a beer and sing ‘that funny flag song’.

I sighed and stood up, trudging towards the taxi rank – what had I done in Middelfart? How had I managed to get back?

Local buses. I had locally bussed my way back to Århus when things had gone wrong. I turned back towards the platform. I might not be able to catch the direct train to Aberdeen, but doubtless I could make my way up on the bevy of two carriage vehicles which shunted commuters to and fro. As long as I avoided the London and Yarmouth lines, all of the trains pulling into the station would go through Peterborough, or at least Ely.

From there I could probably get a local line to York, or even Newcastle if I was lucky. Then to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Aberdeen and finally a car ride back to our family home. It was possible – I could do it.

The train to Cambridge drifted up to platform two and I joined the mass of people jostling to climb aboard, sinking down in a seat by the window.

Perhaps I wasn’t such a pathetic, anorak-wearing sad case after all. Since coming home, I had slipped out of the wonderful, independent habits I’d formed in Denmark and back into my old routine of being looked after by my parents and friends. I knew – somewhere deep down – that I was perfectly capable of crossing the country using only local public transport. In fact, I was able to cross any country in this way, whether I spoke the language fluently or could merely demand alcohol. Yes, I was alone in Norwich, hundreds of miles from home, but I wasn’t incapable. I had proved that to myself in the terminal whilst stuck in the hilarious – if puerile – Middelfart.

The feeling of isolation remained as the guard punched a hole in my ticket, but it gave me strength now, rather than leaving me lonely. The familiar gap-year feeling that everything was a challenge, an adventure, slowly began to creep up on me and I welcomed it.

Clinging to this sense of independence that I would never have gained had I stayed at home last year, I stood and went to gather some time tables from the vestibule. It would be a long trip home, but I was ready.

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