Early Commuters

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A meeting on an early commuter train leads to more...

Early commuters


by Bruno Roggen


Fifty-nine years old, and still on the same early train. Every morning, even on Saturday, not on Sunday.

Always the same routine. Read the New York Times, eat a bun, drink two cups of coffee from the dark brown thermos.

Every day, he sees the same faces. The same people hurry and stumble into the same compartments at the same stations.


Not today. At the second stop, a woman gets on the train, with dark half long hair, and with a slender figure. From afar, she still looks like a young girl, but she isn't anymore. A new face. She looks around and goes to sit at the far end of the compartment.

He looks up from his newspaper, looks at her taut face. She sees it. She looks away.

He's disappointed. He continues to read his paper until it's time for his bun. She stays on the train when he gets off.


The next day, she's there again. She looks at him. He nods at her to say hello. She doesn't react and acts as if she hadn't noticed. All seats at the back of the compartment are occupied. She comes to sit close to him. Her face is turned towards him. From behind his newspaper, he feels she's observing him. He looks up and tries to catch her eyes. She turns her head to one side and looks through the train window.


For days at a stretch, it's the same ritual. He says hello by raising his head and nodding. She ignores him.


A week goes by without her. He wonders if she changed compartments, or maybe if she started to take a later train.


On Monday, she's back. She has changed. She looks emaciated. Her face shows that she has cried.

He welcomes her as usual. This time, she responds by inclining her head in the Japanese way to salute him. She takes a paperback out of her bag and begins to read. He can see that it is poetry, written by the French poet Alfred de Musset. Her hands are slightly shaking.


He takes his courage in both hands and speaks to her. She continues reading. He coughs and introduces himself:


My name is Brandon. Brandon Owens, to be precise.”


She looks up and tries to smile.


Nice to meet you. Owens… A household name.”


He smiles back.


Really, that's my name. No relationship with Jesse, as far as I know. And I am certainly not an athlete.”




She doesn't say her second name. That is it. She looks away and then continues reading.


The next day, he has two chocolate rolls and a second cup in his bag.

Nathalie comes and sits opposite him. She accepts the cup of coffee, but not the roll.

She tells him she's thirty-seven years old, born in Montreal, and is working as a head waiter in a posh French restaurant in Manhattan owned by foreigners.

He says he's a widower and works as a copywriter for a big New York advertisement business, but he doesn't tell her his age.


She looks at him, hesitates for a moment. Then she decides:

I had a problem, Brandon. I haven't been able to go to work for a whole week.”


She looks at him. Her eyes become moist. He is touched by her sincerity and asks:


Are you alright now?”


She shrugs to show that everything isn't alright yet.


You can tell me about your problem if you want.”


She shrugs again. It is clear that she prefers not to confide in him. He doesn't insist and asks:


Do you think things may become better for you?”


No answer. She looks very sad.


The next day, she seems even thinner. Her eyes and her nose are all swollen. She cried again. She comes to sit next to Brandon. He offers her a cup of coffee. She drinks it, pensively. Suddenly, she grabs his hand.


You're a nice man. If they were all like you…”


He is moved. He would like to caress her dark hair. He doesn't dare.


I'm sure you’re going to be alright, Nathalie.”


She smiles. Her smile is ironic. Brandon sees the bitterness on her expressive face.


Yes, of course, one day I’ll be alright. I just don’t know when... Soon, I hope."


The next day, he has put on his best suit, the one he bought for his son's wedding. She sits down next to him. He hands her a small plastic bag with a box of expensive Belgian chocolates.

She smiles and thanks him. He sees that he made her happy. It gives him the courage to ask:


Maybe we can meet somewhere after work? Or in the weekend?”


She looks at him, puzzled.


He puts his hand on Nathalie's knee. She jumps up, looking bewildered. He can see a profound disappointment in her eyes. Already at the next stop, she gets off the train.


The next morning, she isn't there. Nor the morning after, nor the rest of the week.

He sees Nathalie's image in his mind.

Quiet despair is there. There is no way out of his loneliness.

The dull routine takes its course again.


Three weeks later, Nathalie is back. She comes into his compartment. Brandon doesn't dare look at her. He hides behind the New York Times. She looks at him. He feels it without seeing it. She comes to sit opposite him.


Hello, Brandon. It's me again, Nathalie. Nathalie Dujardin. I'm back.”


Why does she tell him her second name? Brandon looks up from behind the newspaper. His face becomes all red. He doesn't know what to think. Carefully, he says:


Good morning, Nathalie, or Miss Dujardin. How are you? Excuse me for what happened the other day. I'm really ashamed.”


I'm fine now, Brandon. Don't apologize and don't call me “Miss”. What you did was spontaneous. I understand. We're alone, the two of us. Loneliness is hard to bear. We do things inadvertently. Or because we're looking for a little warmth.”


Brandon doesn't know what to say. He looks out of the window. Outside the sun is rising. The day promises to be beautiful.


Shall we have a coffee the day after tomorrow, after work, Brandon?”


The question comes to him as a big surprise. He mumbles:


I want to... I don't know. Day after tomorrow? A coffee? Of course, a coffee, have a coffee together, or tea if you prefer... Why not, Nathalie?”


It would please me, Brandon. You know, the day after tomorrow is my birthday. I have decided to change my life. Help me celebrate my birthday. I want to celebrate it with you, and with no one else.”


Brandon pulls himself together. He leans his upper body forward and looks into Nathalie's eyes.


Nathalie, I'm fifty-nine years old.”


She smiles.


I'll be thirty-eight the day after tomorrow. Almost forty. Does it matter? I made a decision this morning. It concerns you.”


Brandon tilts his head backward and doesn't look at her. He doesn't dare ask what she decided. She feels it.


Will you be patient with me, Brandon? I just got out of a crisis, you know.”


His eyes become wet.


I'll try, Nathalie. You must understand that I am a man. I'm fifty-nine years old, but I'm a healthy man. You are young and beautiful. Maybe I will ask you things... I might use words that you don't like to hear.”


I think I know you a little, Brandon. You won't force anything, I'm sure. Give time to time. Let's learn to know each other better if you really think I'm worth the trouble.”


Brandon leans back, his head against the back of the seat. Silent tears are running down his cheeks. Nathalie takes a handkerchief in her purse. She gets up, takes Brandon's glasses off, and wipes his tears. Other commuters in the compartment don't react. Most are still sleepy at this early hour.


Quiet hope is back. There is a way out of loneliness.

Routine loses its rights.


© Bruno Roggen, Anhée, May 2021



Submitted: May 27, 2021

© Copyright 2021 impetus. All rights reserved.

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