As the train speeds up from Lille, the sun comes out, and it looks lovely outside.
“It looks lovely outside, Gemma,” I say, trying to engage her in conversation.
“I’m reading, Frederick,” she replies, “about state sponsored oppression in the Middle East. Did you enjoy your early lunch?”
“I did,” I reply. “I’ve saved half for later to celebrate entering the country of Belgium.”
“That’s nice,” she replies. “How will you work out when that happens?”
“The ground will change colour,” I reply, “and people will talk Flemish and wear different coloured football shirts.”
“It sounds like you’ve got it all worked out,” she says with a certain tone in her voice, which I can’t quite pinpoint. It probably isn’t important as she’s being influenced by what she’s reading and so I must recognise that and allow her to experience those feelings. The subject of her reading is making her angry and frustrated that such awful things can happen in the world, and I can understand why. It’s always better to know than not know and travel around with an inane grin on your face showing a blissful state based on nothing. Knowledge is good, but it should never control you and let it run your life and govern your actions. Those are my feelings based on my reading. The actions of the train mean we are heading into Belgium and the land has remained the same colour. Perhaps the farmers ploughed the colour into the soil? Anyway, I meditate some more and find myself asleep and dreaming about contemplating life from the top of The Atomium in Brussels, built for Expo 58.
Of course, it is a coincidence that I’m awoken by the train slowing down to enter the major station of the capital of Belgium. Mrs Elkins taps the top of our carriers:
“OK, kitties, Freddie, and Gemma, this is where we part for now. All being well, we’ll meet again in 10 days, back here in Brussels. I’m catching the train back to London and then to your house, to make sure everything is OK. I will wait until your escort arrives…here she is now, her name is Miep, and she will take you to Amsterdam via Rotterdam. You will be in expert hands. Bye kitties.”
We miaow our au revoir or saluu, depending on which part of Belgium you come from, and Miep takes Mrs Elkins’s place. She places her cheerful face in front of my little window and smiles at me. Her glasses are a nice shape that suits her face and are red. I miaow at her as that is the least I can do. She also says hello to Gemma, though I’m not sure whether Gemma responds. Gemma is not the best at making friends and getting along with people she’s never met – humans call it breaking the ice. Gemma herself is glacier-like or iceberg-like or Greenland-ice-sheet-like or even West-Antarctic-Ice-Shelf-like towards people she doesn’t know. I hope this conveys the coldness of her response and the icy demeanour she shows, though it’s possible she might thaw eventually, unlike the ice features I’ve mentioned, which will melt quickly if we don’t do something. The train starts up again on its way to Holland and Rotterdam before finishing its journey in Amsterdam. Miep pours some water into the small bowl in my carrier, and I lap up a couple of mouthfuls, as I’m a little thirsty.
“Miep seems nice,” I say to Gemma.
“Yes, she gave me some water, Freddie, which is good of her, isn’t it? I don’t want to drink too much as there doesn’t appear to be anywhere to pee in these carriers.”
“There isn’t, Gemma, so we should keep our moisture until the house in Amsterdam.”
“What have you been reading?” asks Gemma.
“It’s called Whose Body by Dorothy L Sayers and it’s OK, but nowhere near as good as say The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha. The characters in Whose Body are upper class and wealthy and what some people could call the idle rich.”
“Do they look down their noses at the poor people and those who work for a living in this book?”
“They do, yes, but it’s a strength of the writing that I can feel myself not liking these people even though they’re supposed to be the good people as they’re the ones who are trying to catch the killer.”
“I doubt I could read a book like that,” replies Gemma, “even if it’s well written.”
“Why ever not?” I ask.
“It would make me angry, too angry, that snooty people were being immortalised in this manner. Why are there never any books about coal miners being detectives or pet shop owners who are detectives, looking out through the mice and hamsters in the window to see crimes being committed by humans and solving them before the police?”
“Well, there’s a niche for you, Gemma, you could write a detective story about a pet shop owner who gets his pets to find out who did it by releasing them from the shop and then they ask lots of questions to the local cats and dogs, who will almost certainly know who did it.”
“Yes, but would the pet shop owner get all the credit, or would the animals?”
“Gemma, you’d be the writer, so you’d decide, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, the female cat would get all the credit for her miraculous deductions and would point her paw at the person who did it, and then the police would arrest the murderer.”
“Point the paw. That sounds like a catchphrase, something repetitive that people would understand, and which would act as a hook so people would continue to read.”
“I shall ponder this, Freddie, a pet shop owner who sends his cats out to solve the local crimes, not all of them murders of course, who stole Mrs Winters’s ferret, who stole Louise Draycott’s bike, who keeps painting rude words on the community centre door.”
“You’ve an active imagination, Gemma,” I say. “This will do you a lot of good and give you a new hobby to do.”
“It will,” says Gemma. “I will ponder on this and ask my subconscious to come up with a plot line. I will have a sleep now Freddie and see what my mind can come up with.”
“Pleasant dreams,” I say, and go back to reading my book about Lord Peter Wimsey and his mystery of the body in the bath. I can see by the reflection in the window that Miep is reading a book too, and she seems to enjoy it. Everything is peaceful, which is good and reassuring. This calm atmosphere leads me to fall asleep just after Lord Peter decides who’s done it and I only wake up when we arrive at the central station in Amsterdam. I missed Rotterdam completely. It must have been quiet, and I’m disappointed as I was hoping to see something of Europoort, but I’ll catch it on the way back.
Three minutes after we arrive, Miep picks up the carriers and takes us outside, where it appears most of the people have already left the station. She walks along the platform and places the two cat carriers inside a people carrier. Gemma and I are whisked away and soon arrive somewhere. They take us down some stone steps and inside a house with a green front door. Miep lets us out of our accommodation. We are here.