Chapter Three – The End of the Line
The grown-ups milling around on the platform, some getting on the train, others getting off, showed not the faintest interest in Zack and his dinosaur. In between their legs he swerved, everywhere looking up at the faces for any sign of recognition. Now he was in the middle east, one of them had to be his uncle.
Zack’s uncle Henry was tall, as tall as a lamp post. His legs were long like a giraffe. His midriff was a little bloated like someone had pumped him up using his belly button as a valve. He had shoulders broad enough to carry a six year-old boy on. As his head was far from the ground, it was difficult to notice what was on top of it. Zack thought the crown of uncle Henry’s head might be covered hair and hair only, but his brother, Oscar, had once said that there were mice living there, even though his uncle was embarrassed to tell anyone. The one feature that set Zack’s uncle apart from others of his kind was his skin, which was covered in freckles due to years of exposure to a strong sun. The difference was clear on his visit’s home each summer. Whenever uncle Henry stood beside the local people, he made them seem pale like ghosts. The sun had done its work on uncle Henry’s skin, that was Zack’s conclusion, leaving him certain that wherever his uncle was it was probably where the sun was, and wherever the sun was it was probably where abroad was, too.
Onto the glass roof of the station the rain had started to pitter-patter. Zack stared at Tyrone then up at the grubby roof.
‘This isn’t right,’ he said to his dinosaur.
‘Who are you to know that?’ replied Tyrone.
‘Because it’s not a sunny place. You do ask some silly questions, Tyrone.’
In a corner of the station they huddled down to have a big talk.
‘You’ve got to help me, Tyrone. Where do we go from here?’
‘Well,’ said his dinosaur. ‘The world is a very different place now to what it was when I was a lad.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, let me see. Here was there and there was here. And it was much warmer and sunnier back then, too. And there was more of my kind, what’s more.’
Zack squinted his eyes to concentrate. ‘You’ve got it, Tyrone. We need to find a place with lots of sun.’
They walked out of the station looking for more sun, but the rain persisted. The buildings were a bit drab and the people, too.
‘No, this isn’t what he was describing. He said there was a lot of sand where he lived, as well as sun.’
‘Well then,’ said Tyrone, whose head was sticking out of Zack’s backpack. ‘What are we waiting for?’
‘I don’t know,’ answered Zack, who had come to a stop outside a travel agency. ‘What are we waiting for?’
‘The beach,’ said Tyrone. ‘That’s where we’ll find him.’
Minutes later, Zack and his dinosaur were trundling through the countryside aboard a train bound for a seaside town, and beyond that the sand and sun that promised so much. But something was standing between him and his overdue reunion with his uncle, and that something was approaching fast. Again, the man in the uniform, the peaked hat, and the ticket machine slung around his neck went from seat to seat issuing fares for each passenger. However, this time around Zack spied him coming in plenty of time. Remembering that the conductor wanted paper for paper, cash for tickets, Zack felt inside his pockets. His fingers pulled out nothing other than a sticky, melted chew. Hunger gnawing at his stomach, the thought struck him that not only did he have not the means to buy a ticket, neither had he the any money to buy anything to eat.
With the conductor’s back to turned, Zack slipped down off his seat and tip-toed like a ninja to the luggage rack at the head of the carriage. Making sure no one could see him slide behind the huge suitcase lodged there, he hit the close button on the automatic doors. Just as he wedged himself and Tyrone, who was snug in his bag, between the wall and the suitcase, the toilet door opposite clicked open and someone emerged.
‘Don’t say a word,’ he whispered to Tyrone.
Some minutes past, exactly how many he couldn’t begin to tell, before the voices died down and so too the train. All at once, Zack and Tyrone were the only ones left aboard. Or so they imagined. He had got him lodged in there so tightly that it took the owner of the huge, heavy suitcase to haul it out from the rack before Zack could move his arms freely.
The lady was rather startled to see the diminutive figure of Zack crouching there, and even more surprised to see the white, felt fangs of Tyrone the dinosaur harassing her. His face filled up with embarrassment, to which the lady took sympathy.
‘What in the world are you doing down there?’ she inquired.
‘Hiding,’ he said.
‘From the man in the blue hat.’
Realising that he was travelling alone, the lady took his arm and escorted him off the train. On a platform of disinterested strangers and not an uncle in sight, his hope turned to dejection. Not even midday and Zack’s tummy was grumbling, his head was puzzled and much as he loved having Tyrone for company, he would rather have his brother there with him to show the way.
The platform came to a sudden end where the track met the buffer stops. They had reached the end of the line. Past the stationmaster’s office, the derelict waiting room, and the station pub, the doors waited for them. Out in the open, the strong sea breeze blew the seagulls high and wide. The air was part salty and part greasy. It was fresh, not at all how Zack’s uncle had described the heat where he lived.
‘Who is supposed to be meeting you here?’ the lady asked.
‘My uncle Henry,’ answered Zack. ‘He’s tall and thin and has the sun on his face.’
With a face of genuine concern, she scoped the view left and right.
‘I’m afraid there’s no one fitting that description, young man. Let me ask the station master if he’s seen your uncle. Sit down there. I’ll be back in a minute.’
The lady disappeared behind the door. Zack removed Tyrone from the bag, stood on the bench, reached up and placed his dinosaur on a wall.
‘Can you see the sand from here, Tyrone?’
‘Just a little higher,’ replied the dinosaur.
Zack climbed onto the back of the bench, stretching his arm almost out of its socket.
‘Spotted it,’ said Tyrone, triumphantly.
‘Then what are we waiting for?’
By the time the lady returned, Zack was nowhere to be seen.