The day was dying as the cabbie dropped me at Cupar train station and went to resume his place among the ranks of taxis that now wait there all day and all night long. I climbed the bridge that runs over the platform, and at the top I stopped for a moment to look down at the railway line below. There, by the tunnel in the distance, I saw a figure in a hi-vis jacket holding a torch.
“Halloa!” I cried. “Below there! Halloa!”
The man did not hear me, and so I carried on until I stood on the empty platform. There was no sign of the man: he seemed to have disappeared. The wind shook the padlocked shutters of the little coffee booth by my side. The screens of the notification boards were blank, and the timetable fluttered in the wind.
Minutes passed, and then more minutes. I shivered, and walked to the end of the platform, peering at the tunnel in the distance, and then I walked back again and stood watching the silent taxis, their unmoving drivers silhouetted against the setting sun. The shutters next to me gave a furious rattle, and I jumped.
“Who’s there?” I said.
There was no reply, and I turned away and walked to the end of the platform, until I stood with my back to the signalman’s door. It was then that I heard a voice behind me.
I turned: it was the signalman, standing so close that I took an involuntary step backwards, to the edge of the platform itself.
“A visitor!” he said. “What brings you here?”
“I’ve been – I think – a writer in the nearby town,” I replied.
And so we fell to conversation. I described to him my many works of philosophical enquiry, while he told me of the long hours spent by him in the signalman’s bothy, teaching himself languages while guessing at their pronunciation. As the light fell we spoke of the minor languages of the Nile Delta, and the uvular epiglottal specificities of the Uighur dialects, but all the while I noticed the man’s eye fall past me, in the direction of the tunnel. Again and again he looked there, until I could bear it no more.
“Tell me,” I said. “Are you expecting a train imminently?”
“A train?” he said. “There hasn’t been one of them for–”
But then he broke off, for as he spoke a light appeared in the tunnel, and we heard the whistle of the train from Aberdeen. He threw me a wild glance, and as the train drew up to the platform he disappeared back into his signalman’s bothy, and I heard a key turn firmly in the lock.
The train’s door opened and a conductor in Scot Rail livery motioned me inside. The train was empty apart from me and the conductor, and while we sat at the station, waiting to move off, I gestured towards the bothy and asked her about the signalman of Cupar.
She stared at me for a moment, and then she said that there had been no one there for some weeks, not since the last incumbent had been found on the tracks by the tunnel. The book in his hand was Teach Yourself Esperanto, she said, and he was thought to have been so absorbed by the intricacies of its irregular verb forms that he failed to hear what had been the penultimate train on the Cupar line as it came through the tunnel behind him.
“The penultimate train?” I said to her. ‘But surely you don’t mean that this train – is the last?”
She looked straight at me, and as the train moved away from the platform I saw, in the reflection of her eye, the flash of the signalman’s torch, signalling frantically to me from his bothy window.
“Oh yes,” said the conductor. “This is the last train from Cupar.”
And as she spoke the train picked up speed, rushing past the outlines of strange dark forests. I looked back at Cupar station as it receded into the night, and I saw that clouds had gathered overhead, and were covering up the twinkling stars in the night sky, one by one.