Monday, June 18, 2007

Train of thought

(vintage pre-blog writing)

It must be cold out today. You shiver slightly, clutching your worn leather gloves close to your chest. You use your free hand to grab hold of the pole as the carriage lunges forward. Your thin brown hair brushes into your eyes and you’re careful to replace every strand in its place; glancing at your reflection in the window to make sure nothing is awry. Must be your new haircut. I wonder where you go every morning. I mean, you can’t possibly have a nine-to-five job, you take the 10:34 metro every day – and that’s including the weekends. I wonder if you have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend.

You furtively slide a perfectly manicured hand into your concealed coat pocket, fingering the buttons on your cell phone. You furrow your immaculately shaped eyebrows; you remember that there is no reception underground. Whose call are you waiting for? It is then that you notice me watching you. With only the shiny metal pole that you grip between us, you feel naked and exposed. You are not used to being watched – that position is reserved for the blonde, blue-eyed bombshells, you think to yourself. But I can’t help but watch you. I catch your eye and you are quick to look away, looking intently at your watch as an excuse not to hold my gaze. Although you look away, I know that you see me.

We arrive at the next stop. Your whole body jerks forward as the train comes to a halt. You seem to be caught off-guard. Maybe you have something important on your mind. I wonder if I am that something important. I guess I must seem strange to you; as I watch you. But you don’t seem bothered; you make no move to distance yourself away from me. On the contrary, you carefully choose your carriage every morning; as if to make certain that we are in the same carriage. Our daily proximity to each other almost validates our existence.

I turn my head away; compelling you to watch me instead as I have watched you. I yearn to look up and see whether I’ve been able to tempt you, but I decide not to. Instead, I look at my reflection, looking at you, you looking at me. I smile to myself; I have silently convinced you.

Why is it that I find you so intriguing? For one, you never smile. But you don’t seem unhappy either. I wish you would smile. We have never spoken but I want to believe that on some level, we communicate. I am not the shy type; I am the person standing in line at the bank and who talks to you endlessly while you mutely wish for my swift disappearance. So why is it that I can’t muster up the courage to talk to you? With each passing day, it becomes more and more difficult to make that verbal exchange. I have become too comfortable with our imagined telepathic exchanges.

You steal a glance at me, pretending to examine the metro map, which by now I am sure has been emblazoned in the depths of your mind. I wonder why you are always alone. But then again, I am always alone. Not by choice though. You reach into your oversized bag; it never ceases to amaze with its contents. You rummage through for something that you seem to have just thought of. The intent look on your face turns into a frown, and then suddenly, a smile lights up your eyes. You take out a DVD and hold it tightly in your left hand, your knuckles whiten after a few seconds – it’s a Hitchcock classic; ‘Strangers on a Train’. I wonder if you are sending me a message, after all, we are strangers on a train too. Now I would offer to exchange victims with you, except that I am your victim and you are mine. You have victimized me by consuming my thoughts as I stand in this carriage every day, watching you. And I have victimized you by making you the object of my every thought. Still, neither of us shows any interest of changing carriages, and neither of us has missed a day on the metro yet.

You often carry a cup of overpriced coffee from Starbucks, but not today. I notice that when you do, it is always full as you always empty it into the same rusty trashcan as you step off the carriage and onto the platform. You never drink your coffee but hold the cup gingerly in your left hand, shifting back and forth between the two hands, warming each one as you secretly inhale the deep aroma. I, on the other hand, don’t drink the stuff. It clouds my train of thought.

Only four more stops before you end our encounter. I am sometimes tempted to follow you out but something always holds me back. Maybe it’s your aura, lingering behind to keep me company. I usually stay on, finding a seat to rest my legs when you walk out of my day. But today is different. Today you miss your stop. For a minute I am stunned. I’ve already found a seat and now you’ve thrown me off-guard. My hands are soaked in sweat and I wipe them vigorously on my jeans, adding to the collection of stains I’ve gathered. I nervously stare at your back, trying to fathom why and how your schedule changed today. Your face is hidden from view but after a closer look, I can see your reflection, looking at me, me looking at your back. And then without warning, you turn and look straight at my face; your bottomless brown eyes penetrate mine.

You smile at me, take the empty seat to my left and extend your right hand. Then the unthinkable happens, you speak to me: “Hi, I’m Rachel.”