When the train came to a halt, she opened her eyes again, half-smiled in the direction of the man opposite her and, with a visible effort, got up from the seat. Where her movements had been easy before, she now gave the impression of an old woman, or someone just very weary and exhausted.
She paused, looking up at the luggage compartment overhead, and then swiftly took the small red trolley suitcase down.
Shuffling behind the other passengers, she made her way to the steps leading off the train and climbed out.
D. and E. were there, not far from where she got off, and waved at her cheerfully.
Seeing their smiles, and how they took several welcoming steps towards her, made her heart lurch up into her throat, and she scolded herself for being such a crybaby.
Finally, they hugged and kissed, D. took her little suitcase (which clearly was not necessary - she always travelled lightly), E. linked arms with her and they walked out of the station and to the carpark.
During the short drive to their house, E. talked almost constantly. She always had so many things to say, updates about mutual friends, their jobs and families; what changes had happened in their town since her last visit; the plans for dinner tonight and would she like to take a nice hot bath before or afterwards?
She smiled and made mono-syllably comments were they were requested, not really listening to E., inwardly apologizing to her friend for her lack of attention, but at the same time enjoying the normality, the down-to-earth humour and everyday-business-manner.
As was his habit, D. talked little, focusing on the traffic, nodding and smiling at E. whenever she asked her husband to confirm something she had just said.
Once at the house, she gratefully took E. up on her offer to take a long hot bath before dinner, said a heartfelt thankyou to D. for carrying her tiny suitcase up the stairs to the guest room which was to be hers for the next few days, and closed the door silently but firmly behind him.
Now she was on her own again, but this time more so than on the train.
She could relax, and before the tears she had felt so ready to flow had a chance to well up again, she unpacked her few belongings while running a bath.
E. had put her favourite coconut-scented bath essence there for her, and she used it generously before she undressed and got into the tub.
A small old-fashioned black-and-white TV set was perched on top of the wooden chest of drawers in the bathroom, and she switched it on to keep her mind from wandering back to the various lines of thought she had followed during the train ride.
It was news time, and after the main stories with their usual depressing mixture of the catastrohpic and the banal, the presenter handed over to a middle-aged reporter somewhere in Northamptonshire who urged anyone who knew anything concerning a 45-year-old woman, married, mother of two, to come forward. The woman had disappeared from her own home on New Year's Eve at around 11 pm, in spite of the cold weather (which she did not like) and having a bad back, and nobody had heard or seen her since.
The husband appeared in front of the camera, hardly holding back the tears, pleading for help.
She was still very much conscious of the hot, coconut-scented water surrounding her naked body, but at the same time she felt suddenly more awake than she had all day.
This wife and mother-of-two, she was sure, had taken a decision. The decision she herself had so far lacked the courage to take. Silently, she congratulated the woman who had probably made her New Year's resolution come true. Of course it was heart-breaking to see the suffering husband, let alone the children (who were, in a rare act of decency from the media, not dragged in front of the camera).
But who knew what the situation at home had really been? Who ever knew what was going on behind closed doors?
The woman must have had very good reasons to leave, and it was most likely not "just like that", as her husband said into the microphone held up for him by the reporter.
She was certain that this woman had not taken the decision lightly, and that it caused her pain as well, not just relief.
Briefly she wondered whether she would ever be a piece of news.
Then the report was over, weather was on next, and she let herself sink deeper in the hot water until she felt the warmth spreading through her and the tension in the muscles on her back and shoulders eased.