Strangers on a Train
Her Side vs. His Side
As I boarded the noon time train, I let out a sigh of relief at the sight of an empty cart. I had forgotten my headphones and had been worried that the diverse noises a busy cart can produce would distract me from my studying. I pulled out my laptop, set my backpack on the floor, and stretched both legs across the seat, uninviting any embarking passenger from keeping my company. The next three stops came and went. I did not look up from my work, not even once, as to not accidentally catch eyes with someone who might ask to share the seat. The train became fuller and I became more distracted and annoyed.
Why the fuck do I do this to myself? Public transport…”, I couldn’t even finish my thought before I heard a little, monotone voice.
“May I sit here?” it asked.
Out of my peripheral vision I could see two short legs standing in the isle beside me. I slowly looked up to see a little old man, probably 70 or so, directing his question at me.
This is a joke, right? No you can’t fucking sit here, my legs are on the seat.
“Of course,” I replied, swinging my feet to the floor and sliding towards the window. I tried my hardest to look busy. I didn’t look up from my work once.
“Packed house,” the man stated.
“Sure is,” I responded bluntly, still glaring at my screen.
I expected him to start a conversation, seeing as he was old and alone and that is typically the worst combination in a train-seat-sharer when you are trying to get your studying done. But instead, we shared a moment of silence.
Is he looking at me? What is he doing? Why isn’t he talking?
Only moving my eyes, I shot a quick glance at him. He was wearing nicely pressed khaki pants that I imagined his elderly wife ironing with her arthritis prone hands. He sported a long, bright yellow rain jacket, although it was a sunny September afternoon. He was light skinned, silver bearded, and carrying what looked like a tall curtain rod in a small plastic shopping bag. Who is this? I thought, Gorton Fisherman’s grandfather? Jesus Christ, he’s definitely going to want to talk.
“Is that a…laptop?” he asked…hesitant, but unabashed.
Ok what the fuck planet is this guy from? I understand you’re old but this is a computer. On TOP. Of my LAP. A LAPTOP.
“Yes it is,” I replied, keeping my eyes locked on my notes.
The man nodded and didn’t say anything else. I expected wonder. I expected questions. If he didn’t know exactly what a laptop was…he must have been wondering what it did? How it worked? What was up with this guy?
This is why the train SUCKS. This guy isn’t even TALKING to me and I can’t concentrate. Please just someone shoot me now because apparently I am failing this test tomorrow no matter what.
The next three stops came and went. The man stayed silent.
Good, I thought, He got the hint. At least he’s socially competent.
The man shifted in his seat and looked out the opposite window.
Had I spoken out loud?
I had practically given up on studying at this point. I continued to gaze at my screen and let my thoughts wander off.
Hmmm, Brody Jenner followed me on Instagram and commented on my picture!! I think I’m in love, I remembered.
I snapped out of it as the man let out a deep, longing sigh.
Ummmmmm, weird. Does he love Brody Jenner, too? Am I thinking out loud?!?! No, I’m just paranoid. I need a cigarette.
Just as the thought entered my conscious, the man began coughing.
Forget the bogey, I need a fucking Xanax or I’m going to be an anxious paranoid mess for the rest of the day.
The man reached into his pocket, took out a small orange bottle, and began to take his pills one by one.
No. This isn’t real life. Am I still on earth?
Stop it, get back to work, I coaxed myself. It’s all just coincidence.
I increased the speed of my scrolling and tried to memorize my vocabulary. The train stopped. The man rose from his seat. I looked up before he left only to catch his eyes as he winked at me and said, “You’ll do fine,” and departed the train. I shut my laptop and trusted that I was not crazy, and this man was reading my thoughts.
I got on the train feeling nothing but empty. Normally I’d step back from the platform and give Berta my hand to help her on, but today I was alone. And I would be alone for the majority of my train rides from this point on.
At least my knickers are ironed, I thought as I watched my feet solemnly climb the mountains that were once merely platform stairs. Going from bad to worse, I boarded the train only to see a full trolley. Every seat from platform to platform was taken and the only empty spot was occupied by a young girl with her legs propped up in the vacant space. Normally I would let Berta take the seat and I would stand, but now things are different. I approached the girl and waited for her to look up from her technology gadget thing.
What is that hunk of metal? I noticed the keyboard. What do they call those things? Lappy-Computers? She didn’t once look up. She must not notice me.
“May I sit here?” I asked. I felt bad disturbing her from whatever she was so intently involved in.
She lifted her face to meet mine and kindly said, “Of course.”
Berta. She looks like Berta…no that is just my imagination. I looked over at her once I was sitting.
Berta, I thought. This is Berta, dear God. Is this a blessing or a curse?
She did look just like Berta. Blonde hair, blue eyes, fervent about whatever was engaging her on that screen. Not a clue as to what was happening in the world around her anymore.
“Is that a…laptop?” I was hesitant to speak, but I wanted to listen to her voice.
“Yes it is,” she quickly replied. She didn’t look up, almost as if she knew she were being compared. I sat back in my seat and looked forward. How would I ever get used to Berta not being around? I shifted my position and looked out the other window. I thought about her. I wondered if she could see me from wherever she was.
Can you see when you’re dead? Are you even still somewhere that you can see earth when you’re dead? I couldn’t believe I had never thought about this before. What will happen when I die? Will I see Berta again?
I let out a longing sigh.
I looked forward again, then down at what the girl was reading on her gizmo. The top of the screen read “Abnormal Psychology, Exam 1 notes”.
So she’s studying for an exam. That’s nice. She looked smart, and it made me miss Berta with her random tidbits of odd knowledge that she would share when she was somehow reminded.
The first line of her notes stated, “Cardiovascular disease: disease of the heart or blood vessels.”
Oh, that reminds me! I can’t forget my medication.
Berta always reminded me three times a day to take my meds. At first, I would pretend I had forgotten because I liked it when she reminded me. I guess now I didn’t have to forget. Now I’m my only reminder.
The next few stops passed quickly and before I knew it I was at the Salem stop. I got up, took a breath, and turned around just in time to see the only other time the girl looked up. I winked and said, “You’ll do fine,” hoping she would know I was talking about her exam, but I’d be glad if she took it as life advice as well.