The Train Ride

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
A regular commuter on a train finds a stranger to discuss their feelings within the world they are living in.

Submitted: May 19, 2017

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Submitted: May 19, 2017

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I’ve ridden the train numerous times. Each time seems farther to recall than the last. It mainly becomes that way because of the dullness of repetition. It appears farther from reality and farther from ratification. Either way, I am prone to this feeling of separation.

It’s easy to stare at the window usually, seeing the blank sites of blandness. Not that it’s bland, but it happens to be usual. Trees, a few animals besides ourselves, and factory or cityscape that always manages to dim the horizon. Inhaling smog is easy, but the comfort of knowing it is even harder.

Typically I end up in this state of confusion where I ponder what it is I should be doing. It comes down to reading or mindfully enjoying the music I happen to bring along with me. This particular day I found myself helpless upon the sea of people that vacated each and every seat. I decided to do the proper thing and stand idly against the corner wall, but the train conductor kindly did not accept that and offered me a seat upon the floor. I politely obliged and found myself oddly relaxed against this warm floor. It was a moment later than I heard a faint voice speak to me.

“You can have my seat if you’d like,” she said.

She was easy for words, but beyond my imagination. She had brown curly hair, a mixed complexion, and soft shaded glasses that fit comfortably against her face. She seemed complimented by the sunlight fading through the window.

“No thank you ma’m. I couldn’t possibly ask you to do that.”

She giggled softly and responded with, “I understand the formality, but I insist.”

“As do I ma’m. You were seated before I came along and ladies should be well rested before us men.”

Again she giggled. Her teeth pure white, glistening amongst the sound of the laughter.

“If only all men were like you.”

I giggled for the first time in awhile. Never had I enjoyed a train ride. I shouldn’t say that. I usually enjoy the quiet embrace the train seems to offer. Usually even the closest people keep to themselves. So it was unusual to find a bright light so open to the dimness.

“I take it you’ve had bad experience with men,” I said with a bit of bravado.

“More like multiple experiences. I mean not to offend you.”

“No offense taken. I put a lot of effort daily to ensure I don’t come across as the typical misogynist.”

“Surely a well-spoken man such as yourself doesn’t commute here daily. Where are you from?”

“Bend, Oregon. Originally. I had to leave during the war.”

“Were you drafted?”

I nodded. Many a time had I been asked that. Usually it would be because there were two differences between those that volunteered. Those that were drafted seemed to not return to the world as easy as they were born into it. Either they were pronounced dead, lost, or found lingering broken upon the hospital beds. Easy to say, but not easy to look at. 

“It must have been hard. I apologize for having asked.”

“You need not to. I understand why you asked. Most of the ones you see volunteered. How did you know I was drafted?”

“The age. I would guess you were around…14?”

I laughed.

“You haven’t met me before have you?”

She laughed to. The dimness seemed to meet our eyes, but they easily departed once having lost the intuition and attention span.

“I would have remembered someone like you. You’re easy to talk to. Most aren’t. I suppose,,,it really was difficult there?”

“Not at first surprisingly. They give you a gun and send you off in divisions for infiltration. So at first, all you had to do was press the trigger. It was easy enough to do in the dark there. But as you advanced, you would…you would hear it. The sound of stickiness. The sound of it stuck beneath the soles of your boots.”

“You don’t have to remember for my sake. I wish I could help in some way.”

“I’ll always remember. It’s a matter of continuing to live. And…I believe I can do that. I apologize; I didn’t happen to ask you your name.”

“Shelia Morris. You can call me Lia. Everyone close to me usually does. And yours?”

“Easel Percy. Nothing shorter,” I joked.

She smiled and looked out to the window. I was worried I was lost from the conversation. Usually the train commuters give up having started an idle chat. She happened to be different. I quickly found her having left her seat and having sat on the floor beside me.

“You don’t have to-”

She put her finger up to my lips and smiled.

“It’s quite alright. Usually everyone here is quiet. The war shapes all of them don’t they?”

“Did it shape you some way?”

She paused.

“I feel like that question is more pungent for you.”

“To the front-lines perhaps, but it affects all of us in some way.”

“I suppose your right. I had a brother Rodrick who got drafted as well. When the first wave came, we did as we were told and bunkered up. Except our bunker door malfunctioned and we couldn’t lock it. So my father and brother sacrificed themselves by barricading the door shut from the outside rubble. My mother and I were locked in with the provisions for a few months before the rescue teams managed to find us. We must’ve cried for hours.”

“I am truly sorry.”

“It’s okay. I mean, it isn’t. But life is hardship, is it not?”

I wasn’t sure. Hardship always appears as balance to the easiness life used to have before the war. People found themselves easy toward the idea of freedom, choosing to accept the belief that the world would protect them when they needed protection and would shield them from outside terrors when they were afraid. Fear was easy to control once the first attacks hit. I remember it when during my youth too. I still believed at the time that I could live a life free of hardship. That something was beyond the horizon. 

Of course devastation changes that. The moment that fear cripples us turns to the worst and divides us. It becomes unholy and at the very least, it soon turns to violence. It never waivers, and soon, the normal that we become used to fades into a sanctum always out of reach and never out of mind.

I believe Shelia knew that as well as I did. I aspired for a change. Or perhaps a hope that a day would come where the past was forgotten and tomorrow was embraced. 

“I wouldn’t go as far as that. Yes life is hard, but having it be easier is even harder. We endure what has come and we destroy what is forgotten. As long as we move forward, there may be something prosperous at the end.”

“And what is it that you think it is? What’s prosperous to you?”

“A promise.”

“A promise?”

“Yes. If you ask anyone to keep a promise, it’s hard to say for certain if that person will keep it. But if you keep a promise to yourself, you do everything you can to make it happen. So what I mean is…that I will keep my promise for myself.”

“And what’s that promise?” 

“A better tomorrow.”

“What if tomorrow is just the end?”

She let her back slide a little more against the wall. It slid downward, but stayed rested. She appeared helpless to her own question, as if already having knowledge that a destiny awaited all of our fates. I spoke softer than I did before.

“It can’t be.”

“Why not?”

“Because I made my promise.”

We both smiled at that, and it soon drifted once we heard the overhead announcements.

“Attention all passengers: we have encountered more debris. We are awaiting the evacuation teams approval to have this cleared. Please standby.” 

The other passengers did not appear startled. Not they we should have. It became as much as a custom for this to happen as did the Sun to set. Within every train ride I have taken, it usually happened this way. It wouldn’t take long for a resolution. It usually took about an hour to remove the broken tunnel rubble that withstood the train tracks.

This meant every passenger waited calmly. Some began reading newspapers. Others would talk to a nearby neighbor about the war. The more quieter ones would idly do as I did as venture their eyes to the window. I expected they had promises to keep too. Although most aren’t as willing.

“At least we have more time to talk,” Shelia said nicely, pronouncing every word with a faint ring that didn’t come across as absurdly politely. It had more genuine reflection. I wish I could’ve been sweeter.

“So were you heading to the 4th Quadrant as well?”

“Actually no. The third. There is a trader there that sells batteries. My mother and I can’t afford the air conditioner units. We have to use the older fans. The early 21st century kind.”

“You don’t have the ones with the plug?”

“We do, but not many us have outlets.”

“So I presume you are originally from the upper quadrants?”

“72. And yourself? You must be from the lower ones.”

“The third.”

“Did you acquire that much wealth from the war?”

“Enough to keep me alive for a few years.”

“I always thought the wealth reimbursement was a rumor.”

“It’s quite real. Most aren’t fortunate enough to return. Fortunately, I was able to survive.”

“I’m glad you did.”

I blushed at those words. She was oddly predacious, but in the most comforting of ways. It was as if she was fighting for me, fighting around me, in order to get behind the disasters we had to face. She was oblivious to it all with full awareness of what was going. It was almost as if it was a pessimist’s optimism in pretending that the world was all too safe. Still, I must say I felt guilty to be alive at that moment.

“I don’t know,” I began to say, “I mustn’t take it accordingly. I feel like…like I should have died back there.”

“And why on God’s earth would you go about thinking that?”

“I don’t know. It’s a feeling. A strong one at that. I suppose it’s because that only few return from that hell. And…”

She smiled as she patted my hand twice. Shelia had a quirkiness that came diligent whenever she reached to touch me personally. I felt in awe as I stammered to regain my train of thought. I didn’t have to. She spoke soon after.

“Chocolate.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Chocolate. I miss it. I know most have. It’s trapped somewhere in every news article, about how someone finds a sliver of it hidden beneath debris and you know what happens right?”

“Of course. Everyone does.”

She giggled a bit and nudged my shoulder.

“Well? Go on. I want to hear you say it.”

“Well…they slaughter each other for it. Or someone runs away with it to sell it to the highest bidder. If they are fortunate enough, their life is promised with richness.”

“Yes, but do you understand what I am getting at?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“If someone is willing to risk their life away over a cherished tangible item, then why should you being willing to give yours away for the intangible? You see, life is fate. Each and every action we make destines our life to the next. We have no control of it. Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of it. So you have to hold onto the life this moment has given you. Like I said, I’m glad you survived.”

Shelia smiled yet again as she gracefully accepted looking in my direction. Eye to eye. She wanted me to see the world not for what it was, but for what it could be. I was too cynical for that, but that precedent soon changed before me.

“Attention all passengers: debris has been cleared. Our next stop is the 4th Quadrant. We will be arriving there shortly.”

Again it seemed the window was more polite to her. She gazed beyond its reach. Nothing more than the darkness of the tunnels kept her view, and yet she continued to stare outside of it. Shelia had a conceptual understanding of the world. It could only be told through her eyes. Not even my own.

“And here I thought we would be able to talk longer,” she pouted lightly, still keeping a temperament to her usual mood.

“Well, it’s not as if the train has made a complete stop yet. We have much more ground to cover.”

“Indeed we do Mr. Percy.”

“Please. Call me Easel. I’d say we have moved far past formalities, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I would, but I’m not sure I will ever be able to see you again.”

The train stopped and I shook her hand gently with a tip of my hat.

“Sure you will. There’s always the next train ride.”


© Copyright 2017 LeoHarp. All rights reserved.

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