I am finally here, the land of the free, the New York equivalent for me. And try as you may, a person my age can never avoid taking public transport if you have places to be daily. So this short story is inspired by one of the many strangers that chanced upon my path today.
In his hand he held two cups. Will she like them? He thumbed the cups nested in his palms. So fragile, he thought. Fragile… just like Jolene. The thought of her name tugged at his heartstrings.
I saw his grip tighten on the two cups, but his facial features remained undisturbed. His brows were fraught with wrinkles, and were clenched so tightly that they formed a thick lump of skin crowding out his eyes, causing his eyes to be no more than a slit.
The young man seated beside him looked up from his Jane Eyre novel, and sneaked a peek at his neighbor with the funny brows. The brows made him look angry. Wait, no. That look is not anger. It is worry. Yes, he looked worried. To me, he looked very worried . That man was very worried, all the time.
Jolene… what have I done to deserve her stolen away from me?
Now he was thumbing the cups again. His thumb explored the inner rim of a cup. As I watched, I noticed his odd bulging fingers. Like his brows, their skin were excessive as well. It was as if he had too much skin, which folded and reminded me of a bulldog’s sagging cheeks, or a cold sausage with wrinkly skin. I felt sympathy and wondered whether it is a symptom of old age, or was he a casualty of a cruel accident?
Blissfully unaware of being scrutinized by the brat on his right, the old man was still lost in his thoughts. She will like them. The teddy bears on it will make her like it. She loves teddy bears… if she can recognize and recall what teddy bears are. What have I done to deserve this?
While holding the cups, he toyed with the keychain hooked around his left thumb. As the final sentence passed through his mind, he squeezed at the spring-mechanism clip which gave a satisfying ‘Snap!’ sound. That snap was his expression of rage, hurt and every strong emotion he had. It is soft and will be unheard, but it will have to do. Temper, temper, he chided to himself.
I was staring blankly at my outstretched feet and weaving a tragic story about the stranger next to me, before two pairs of approaching feet beckoned me to oblige to civic duty to tuck my feet in to give way. As I did so, the man beside me looked up and his gaze followed them. They were a young couple, probably around my age.
Her voice alerted me, forcing me to stop my train of thoughts. “Really meh!” Her squeal, her pleasant voice, the playfully cheeky refusal to believe her boyfriend’s tall tales, all of these brought the euphoric yet nostalgic sentiments to blossom within his breast. Young love, how beautiful it is. Love her hard, young man, love her while you can. His gaze followed them as they walked on and onto the next carriage, until they were finally out of his sight. But his gaze lingered on where they exit, where he noticed another young kissing couple. Young love, he thought again.
“Bartley station,” the train announced abruptly. The kissing couple broke off, looking up and at the train’s digital panels. The girl’s expressions read: This is my stop.
Bartley? I still have ways to go. Sigh. I was tired and it had been a long day. I was already drawing on reserve creativity energy to compose this tale. But beside me, my muse of the day rose from his seat. This must be his stop too.
My stop. I can see Jolene soon. I can give the cups to her. How will she react? Will she recall her favorite childhood toys? I hope so. But her dementia is getting worse. Yesterday she almost forgot her own husband…