Published in Overland Issue 249 Summer 2022 · Fiction Ticket Avi Leibovitch A faint scent of coffee. The warm seat by the window. The light rumbling of a train ready to depart. These sensations had a very soothing effect that helped me relax. It was a fine beginning to my three-day journey across the country. The reason for this trip wasn’t a particularly happy one, as I was on my way to attend a relative’s funeral. I used to be close with him—but that was a long time ago. Like many family disputes, ours was sparked from insecurities. The subsequent rift that developed was caused by pride. My thoughts shifted towards the unopened letters resting in my travel bag and I felt my chest tighten. I closed my eyes and tried to think of more pleasant things. The cosy ambiance of the carriage helped me drift into a thoughtless daydream. I was on the brink of dozing off when someone tapped my shoulder furiously. I opened my eyes to see a short old woman standing over me. She looked quite distraught. ‘Do you see what I’m seeing?’ ‘Sorry?’ ‘Look!’ she said, gesturing towards the other end of the carriage. I tried to find the source of her distress, but at first there didn’t seem to be anything unusual. A young couple with a baby sat a few seats away. An elderly gentleman sat behind them, sleeping. Eventually, I saw the cat. The grey tabby was sitting alone, gazing out the window. While it did not seem to be causing any trouble, it was still a strange sight. ‘Are you referring to the cat, Ma’am?’ ‘Of course!’ she spluttered. ‘What kind of train service would allow for that beast to just … sit there!’ ‘Why don’t we alert the staff,’ I said, hoping this would calm her down. After all, the cat was simply minding its own business. ‘Good idea,’ she said and disappeared. I looked back at the feline. It did not seem concerned by the fact that it was in a locomotive. The train was scheduled to leave any minute now and I wondered what anyone could do about it once we left the station. Soon enough, the old woman reappeared with the ticket inspector by her side. ‘There it is!’ she said, pointing at the cat as if she had just identified a suspect. The ticket inspector looked uncertain but didn’t seem to share the old woman’s concern. ‘There’s nothing to worry about, Ma’am,’ he said. ‘The train will depart soon, so it might be best if you go to your seat.’ The old woman frowned. ‘But aren’t you going to get rid of it?’ The ticket inspector sighed. ‘We can’t.’ ‘Why not?’ the old woman and I asked in unison. The ticket inspector pursed his lips and hesitated. ‘It has a ticket.’ I could not believe what I heard. ‘A ticket?’ The man nodded. The old woman muttered something about how this trip was a mistake from the start, before storming off to the next carriage. As if on cue, the train blared its horn and began to rumble its way out of the station. ‘Right,’ said the ticket inspector, ‘I’d better get going. Enjoy your trip.’ He walked away rather briskly. The cat appeared blissfully unaware that three people had been reviewing its very presence. Its amber eyes watched the scenery outside change from an old station into a series of apartment buildings and townhouses. It struck me how unfazed it was by being in a moving train, as if it had done the trip many times before. But I couldn’t grasp what the ticket inspector meant by the cat having a ticket. Surely he meant that the owner had purchased a ticket for their pet? But if that was the case, the cat would be in one of the cargo carriages, not here. Also, where was its owner? My curiosity got the better of me, so I left my seat and made my way towards the tabby. It glanced at me as I approached but then went back to looking out the window. It was not alarmed by my company, so I sat in the vacant seat opposite. Nothing happened for a few minutes. The cat continued to watch the outside world while I watched the cat. I was about to lose interest when the cat spoke. ‘Hasn’t anyone told you it’s rude to stare?’ I was speechless. The cat had turned its gaze on me. It looked quite unimpressed. ‘I … I’m sorry,’ I stuttered. ‘I’ve just never seen a cat on a train before.’ Her expression relaxed a bit. I say ‘her’ because her voice sounded distinctively feminine. ‘I guess that’s understandable,’ she said. ‘I don’t usually travel by train because of the amount of distress it causes some people.’ I nodded. ‘If you don’t mind me asking,’ I said, ‘how are you able to talk?’ The cat stared as if I’d just asked the most ridiculous question. ‘The same way as anyone, I suppose. When I was a kitten, I was able to pick up on your language from the person who raised me.’ I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but that certainly wasn’t it. If she’d told me a witch had cast a spell on her, it would have been easier to believe. ‘If what you’re saying is true, then why don’t all cats talk like people?’ I asked. The feline smiled, which was a very strange thing for me to witness. ‘We cats don’t usually bother ourselves with things we find useless,’ she said. ‘Most of my peers would argue that I wasted my time learning your language.’ ‘Then why did you go out of your way to learn it?’ The cat was silent for a moment. ‘I guess I was curious to know what you humans spoke about,’ she said. Her answer somehow made sense to me. Wasn’t that why some people take the time to learn a second language? ‘Did your curiosity pay off?’ I asked. The cat looked out the window. ‘I suppose I’m still finding that out,’ she said. *** The tabby and I continued to talk. Her name was Murka, and she was, in fact, female. Murka was on her way to visit her previous owner, who lived in the countryside. ‘It’s been about a year since I last saw her, so we made plans for me to visit,’ she said. ‘How come you haven’t been living together?’ I asked. Murka looked down to the ground. I’d probably asked something too personal. ‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘it was none of my business.’ ‘No, it’s okay,’ she said. ‘My owner was experiencing … emotional issues.’ I waited for her to elaborate. ‘It’s hard for me to put into words because cats don’t experience things the same way that you humans do.’ I thought it was quite ironic to hear that from a talking cat but I kept my mouth shut. ‘My owner had this issue that kept preventing her from interacting with the outside world. At first, I thought it was laziness. As a cat, I completely understand laziness. But after some time, I realised she wanted to go out and be with others. But there was something within her that made her choose to remain secluded from everyone else. I could tell this made her miserable.’ ‘Why do you think she was like that?’ I asked. I suspected this person was experiencing some form of social anxiety or depression, but I did not have enough information to say this to Murka. ‘I’m not sure,’ the cat said. ‘But after some time, I noticed she wanted my attention a lot more often. At first, I didn’t mind, especially since she had no-one else to talk to. But it got to the point where I felt that I was responsible for her misery.’ ‘Like you were enabling her?’ ‘Exactly.’ I tried to imagine how a cat could enable a person to be a recluse. Murka must have known what I was thinking because she said, ‘I realised that she saw my companionship as a sort of replacement for normal human interaction. She repeatedly told me that she didn’t need anyone in her life but me. It didn’t take me long to understand that, by being there, I was allowing her to think this way. That’s why I decided to leave.’ I nodded, understanding Murka’s reasoning. By now, the scenery outside had changed to green fields flocked with sheep. The occasional farmhouse would also pass my view. ‘You know,’ Murka began, ‘ever since I left her, I’ve had this feeling that maybe I did the wrong thing. That I abandoned her.’ After a moment of silence, she asked, ‘What would you have done?’ I had to think about it. Based on what I’d heard, Murka’s owner must have been going through a lot. But how much responsibility did a cat have towards its owner? ‘I honestly don’t know,’ I finally said. ‘But from what I’ve heard, you only did what you thought was in your owner’s best interest. Maybe there was a better way to go about it, but I don’t think you did the wrong thing, per se.’ Murka did not say anything to that. The conversation must have worn her out because she yawned and said, ‘If you don’t mind, I’m going to get some rest now.’ She then curled up in a ball and closed her eyes. As I watched the tabby sleep, I suddenly remembered that cats aren’t known to talk. I looked around to see if any of the other passengers had noticed our conversation. The young family was now asleep, while the elderly gentleman was immersed in a newspaper. I did not feel like sleeping. A few minutes later, the food and drink trolley passed through, so I bought myself a coffee. It was overpriced and didn’t taste good at all. I looked at Murka and wondered how many other people had heard her story. *** Next morning, Murka and I sat opposite each other just as we had the day before. I had struggled to sleep during the night and, consequently, felt quite drowsy. Murka, however, appeared to be alert. She observed the world outside the window, which was still just a sequence of green fields. At some point Murka asked me to open the door to the women’s lavatory for her. Bewildered, I made the mistake of asking her if she knew how to use a toilet. ‘That’s none of your concern!’ she retorted, her whiskers flaring. ‘Sorry.’ ‘And besides,’ she huffed, ‘I’ve already enquired about litter boxes and this train service doesn’t provide them.’ I apologised again and opened the bathroom door for her. Murka walked in curtly and slammed the door shut with her hind leg. I waited until I heard a light rap on the door and opened it again. Murka seemed to have calmed down by the time we resumed our seats. One of the train attendants, a young man with a neatly groomed beard, approached us and asked if we wanted breakfast. I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I ordered tea. Murka said she’d pass on breakfast as well. The attendant nodded, wrote my tea order on a notepad, and walked off. I was surprised by how nonchalant he was when Murka spoke to him. It probably made it easier for him to act as if things were normal, rather than get worked up like the old woman from yesterday. Otherwise, it would just complicate his job, and I doubted people like him and the ticket inspector got paid enough to make things more complicated. I pointed this out to Murka, who agreed with me. ‘If only people are always like this when they hear me speak,’ she said. ‘But I suppose that’s the price to learning your language.’ I didn’t know how to respond. A few minutes later the bearded attendant came back with my tea, which I thankfully accepted. ‘I keep meaning to ask,’ Murka said, ‘where are you travelling to?’ I felt my chest tighten again as I told her the name of the town where I was headed. ‘I’m going to my grandfather’s funeral.’ ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ Murka said. ‘It’s okay,’ I lied. ‘I was not close with him, so his death didn’t affect me that much.’ ‘I see.’ I could tell there was something on Murka’s mind and I had an uneasy feeling it had to do with something I said. ‘What are you thinking about?’ I asked. Murka hesitated. Finally, she said, ‘I hope I’m not out of line, but why would someone go to the funeral of a person they were not close with?’ ‘A few reasons,’ I said. ‘It could just be a formality or because there’s an expectation from other people attending the funeral. Some people might go with the hope of collecting a piece of inheritance.’ ‘What’s your reason?’ The question took me off guard and I debated whether I should keep lying. I decided against it. ‘Guilt.’ Murka tilted her head. ‘The truth is,’ I began, ‘I was quite close with my grandfather a long time ago. We spent a lot of time together when I was little. He would often take me to the park and tell me stories of his childhood.’ I took a deep breath. ‘He was a caring man but he also had his expectations.’ ‘What kind of expectations?’ Murka asked. ‘As I entered my teenage years, he would give me advice on how to improve different aspects of my life. That included how I should study at school, how to pick good friends, even how to talk properly. I thought I was able to tolerate it but then I reached adulthood.’ I felt a tear forming at the corner of my eye. ‘I always failed to meet his expectations. He would remind me of this every time we met, until it became unbearable. Eventually we had our fight. Years of grievances manifested into a spout of ugly, reprehensible words. That was five years ago and I haven’t seen him since.’ Murka listened intently the whole time, her eyes unblinking and sympathetic. ‘About a month after our fight, I received a letter from him,’ I said. ‘He simply wanted to apologise and to know if I was well. Like I said earlier, he was a caring man. But I was too wrapped up in my own ego to realise this and didn’t respond. Nor did I open any of the following letters he sent me. The last one arrived a few days ago, right before he died.’ I let out a deep breath and wiped the side of my face. Outside the window a large lake passed our view, reflecting the clouded sky. ‘Could it be,’ Murka said carefully, ‘that guilt isn’t the only thing that’s taking you to the funeral?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘It seems to me that your grandfather’s caring nature left an impact on you. Perhaps you just want to say goodbye to the man who spent time with you when you were a child and showed his care for you in his letters.’ Murka’s surmise sounded so simple and obvious, yet it hit a chord. I hadn’t really considered the idea that I simply wanted to say a final goodbye to my grandfather. But was this the reason why I was going to the funeral? Or was I really driven by feelings of regret and self-loathing? ‘I don’t know,’ I repeated weakly. I felt tired just thinking about it. I could only imagine how Murka felt whenever the topic of her owner came up. *** It was dark when the train started to slow down. Murka’s eyes were wide and her ears up. One of the other travellers, the elderly gentleman, stood up and collected his hand luggage. ‘This is my stop,’ Murka said, looking at me. ‘It’s been a pleasure getting to know you during this short time.’ ‘It’s been a pleasure for me too. Good luck with your reunion.’ ‘Thanks. Good luck to you too.’ As the train pulled into the station, Murka jumped off her seat and trotted to the door. A single lamppost illuminated the countryside station. Grey fog obscured most of the platform. I could, however, make out a lone figure waiting by the lamppost. A young woman, probably close to my age, wrapped in a dark-red coat. She seemed on edge, as if anticipating something. The train finally stopped and I heard the carriage doors open. Murka jumped down onto the platform and slowly walked towards the young woman. She stopped about a metre in front of her. They appeared to be talking to each other. Suddenly, Murka leapt into the woman’s arms, who in turn cuddled the cat close to her chest. For the first time in a while, I smiled. I turned away from the window and looked at the seat in front of me. A small piece of paper lay on the spot that the tabby previously occupied. I picked it up for closer examination and saw that it was a train ticket. It had a single hole punched through—a testament to its use. I pocketed the ticket and looked back out the window. Murka and the young woman were no longer there. As the train blared its horn, I picked up my travel bag from under my seat. I pulled out one of the several letters that rested within and proceeded to open it. Avi Leibovitch Avi Leibovitch is a writer and editor based in Melbourne. He holds a BA in Professional Writing and Editing from Swinburne University of Technology. Some of his creative work can be found in Other Terrain Journal and Backstory journal. More by Avi Leibovitch › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. 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