page 1 of 2
Christopher explains that he must memorize every physical detail of his environment. In places he has already visited he can simply note the changes that have occurred since his last time there. But if Christopher is in an entirely new place, processing his surroundings can cause his mind to freeze up, like a computer crash. Most people are not like this, and only glance at their surroundings before moving on. In a field in the countryside they might notice some cows. In the same field, Christopher would memorize the exact number of cows, their colors, and their placement. Christopher attributes the fact that he is good at math and logic to his attention to detail.
Christopher waits in the entrance of the station, feeling sick from the crowded, smelly underpass tunnel before him. He goes through the tunnel and his head starts to hurt from the numerous signs offering goods and services. He sits down outside a café and does a problem called “Conway’s Soldiers” in his head to calm himself. The puzzle involves jumping colored tiles over each other on a chessboard that stretches infinitely in all directions.
A policeman interrupts Christopher, asking why he has been sitting in the café in a trance for two and a half hours. Christopher says he is going to visit his mother in London. The policeman asks if he has a ticket, or money for a ticket. Christopher explains that he has neither but that his father gave him his ATM card to pay for the trip. The policeman escorts him to a cash machine, where Christopher withdraws fifty pounds. After the policeman points him to the ticket window, Christopher purchases a one-way ticket to London. To get to the train platform he has to go through the underpass again. This time he imagines a big red line stretching across the floor to his destination. He follows the line by putting one foot in front of the other while saying out loud “left, right, left, right.” He pretends that the people he bumps into along the way are Guarding Demons in an imagined computer game called “Train to London” and pushes past them. He finally reaches the train and boards.
Christopher used to make timetables for all his toy trains and for himself. Christopher explains that time is not like space. If you put down an object you can draw a map back to it, or remember its location. The object physically exists in space where you left it. But time is the relationship between events and is not a fixed relationship. If you travel near the speed of light in a spaceship you may come back to find that everyone you know is dead, while you remain young. If you get lost in a desert you are in a desert, but if you get lost in time you are nowhere at all. Christopher likes timetables because they make sure that he does not get lost in time.
The claustrophobia he feels in the packed train reminds Christopher of when the school bus broke down, leaving Mother to drive Christopher and some other children home. The car was so full that Christopher jumped out while it was moving, hurting his head. The policeman from earlier appears. He says Father is looking for Christopher and that he has come to take Christopher back to the station. But the train starts to move, so the policeman has to wait until the next stop.
As they travel, Christopher looks out the train window. He begins to feel dizzy as he realizes the millions of miles of train track that must exist in the world, and the millions of people that must have laid them. Christopher, not knowing the train has a bathroom, wets his pants. The policeman orders Christopher to go clean up, and when Christopher enters the bathroom there is poop smeared on the toilet seat. The sight sickens him. When he is done, he notices that across from the bathroom are two shelves that remind Christopher of the cupboard back home where he often went to feel safe. He climbs into the middle shelf and pulls a suitcase in front of him. He does some quadratic equations to pass the time. The train beings to slow down and he hears the policeman knocking on the door of the bathroom, then leaving. Christopher stays perfectly still until the train starts moving again.
Take a Study Break!