I stepped onto the train platform. The sun was high in the sky. The station wasn’t stifled with coldness like what I was used to. For five years, it was an air-conditioned atmosphere everywhere. This was a sudden change, but I liked being back home. Sweat rolled down by nape and onto my shirt. I dabbed a small towel at it and sighed. I adjusted my Ray Bans and took a whiff of the familiar polluted air from the streets, four feet below the station. I haven’t been here in several years. The weather determined I was indeed back home. The sun had a temper and the clouds made a point to keep out of its way.
The sound of the approaching train reached the station. Three women to my left were talking about the tragic story of a woman that was shown on the news the previous night. Something made a noise behind me. A man opened a bag of chips but placed it back inside his bag when a train warden pointed to the “No Eating/Drinking” sign lazily hanging on the grimy wall. Moments later I heard munching. I spun around pretending to dust something off my back. Yes, he was eating his chips. Crumbs formed at the side of his mouth. Some fell on his black jacket. I could see the dim lights of the train. They probably weren’t dim. The train came from the direction where the sun was and everyone had their hands to their foreheads to block its unforgiving light. The platform was filled with people rushing, all at once. Some pushed each other. Others felt faint. High school kids in their creased uniforms were chattering about milk-tea, the latest gossip on a teen idol and their hair.
I was in queue in the ladies cabin but I was pushed at from all directions. I decided to sprint to the nearest one instead. There was space for just me, yet a plump woman with saggy breasts pressed her body against me, seconds before the train’s door closed. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The train moved. I couldn’t feel where my bag was. I looked down and saw it was zipped properly. I held it on my chest to block the woman’s breasts from creating sweat upon my dress. I turned around and saw a sea of clammy backsides of shirts and uniforms. Summer has been unkind. The expressions on their faces were either embellished by annoyance or had the look of defeat. An infant was crying in a corner. It was in a pram, pushed by a middle-aged man in a buttoned-down polo. The heat and swarm of people around it must have woken it up from its sleep. Finally, we reached a stop.
Almost everyone got off the train. This station led to the biggest mall in the city. I took a deep sigh of relief, adjusted my side bag from my right to my left and took a seat. I was headed to the park, which was five stations away. The train was close to deserted. The middle-aged man wiped beads of sweat from his forehead from the back of his hand and sat on the vacant seat. He then carried his crying child in his arms, gently rocking it back to sleep. The child was a girl, no older than 4 months. I smiled at the man, who responded by tilting his little girl toward my direction, whispering to her that I was smiling at her. The child’s eyes were swollen from all the crying. But she gurgled, eventually falling back to sleep. The man continued to sweat even if the poor air-conditioning systems of the train were slowly improving. I handed him my tissue packet. He said thank you, kind eyes touching a piece of my soul. I nodded.
You could tell the difference of a place just by looking at how buildings stood from the ground, or the way trees swayed to the wind. There were barely any birds in the sky. Where I’ve been for the past five years, it was clear blue skies, neat roads and shiny buildings that lit up the night. As I look out the train window, I see dusty edifices, tangled telephone wires, laundry from windows in disarray and broken down jeepneys. I found myself smiling, until I felt a wave of sudden unease rush over me.
Someone has been staring at me for a while now. He had a familiar polo on where a slight belly bulged. His hair drooped upon his dark grey rimmed glasses that pivoted your attention to his beautiful, round eyes. I held my breath for several seconds and felt a knot in my stomach. It was Johnny.
“Hey.” I managed to blurt out. I suddenly became conscious. I tugged at my dresses to relieve it off its creases and shuffled my shoes, one upon the other.
“Nervous huh?” His eyes looked at my shuffling feet, to which I stopped.“Mind if I sit next to you?” He smiled reluctantly.
I shook my head and moved over to give him some space. I looked at the opposite direction and my eyes widened. I forgot that the man with the baby was just a couple of seats away from me. He smiled a kind smile, with a trace of “I know what this is but I’ll be quiet”.
Johnny sat next to me. He wasn’t close but the apparent nearness only encouraged my wordlessness. We didn’t say anything for five minutes, even if it appeared to feel like an eternity of awkwardness. I looked at his shoes. They were new. His pants were jeans. His backpack was Jansport. It wasn’t bulky, but I could tell there were a few books inside them by the outline it had from the outside. I could tell he was glancing now and then. My shoes started to shuffle again. I pinned my feet onto the floor. Stop shaking. I heard a buzz. It was from his phone that was inside his pocket. He ignored it.
“So, how have you been?” He finally spoke, though it seemed more like he croaked the words out.
“I’m well, I’m well,” I replied, “Just got back. A few days ago.”
“You’re back for good?” I found him looking at me. I looked at him and nodded.
“You’re still working for the airline company?” I inquired. A pang ached from within and memories of the relationship and how it ended came rushing back in an instant. I tried to shake it away. I couldn’t lose my cool. At least, I’m not going to let him see it.
He nodded, “Yeah. But I got transferred to the administration office just two years ago. I’m the head of the Human Resource department. Work’s tougher, with all the files and constant employee meetings. But it’s better than being a part of the cabin crew. I don’t have to be awake during the times when the body needs sleep.”
“I see,” I nodded, “Congratulations then. That’s good to hear.”
Silence rolled on for several more minutes. I checked my watch, in twenty minutes I would be reaching my stop. The train reached the next station and the middle-aged man waved to me before he got off.
“It was nice of you. To give him your tissue packet.”
“Oh, um. Thanks, hehe.” I didn’t know what to say. I said everything I could five years ago. Of all the places and of all the times I could have run into Johnny, it had to be today. It had to be during a hot day and inside a deserted train.
A buzzing sound went on again and this time Johnny took his phone from his pocket. He typed a text message and sent it. Another pang. Flashbacks of a drunken night, a strange woman and angry voices over the phone careened into my mental vision. I looked away, pretending to not have witnessed anything. The sun was on my face. I’d rather have it on me than remember anything that may or may not determine how the rest of the day will be for me.
“It’s work, don’t worry,” he said softly.
I pretended to not hear him. I gave him a quizzical look that adjusted into a “I don’t mind or care at all really” kind of smile. Even though I felt otherwise.
Twenty minutes passed and we were still seated next to each other, bereft of conversation. In the past years, I’ve been practicing speeches that I knew I would never tell him. But I was suddenly getting verses of it back again. Should I say something? Should I ask him out for coffee? I was nervous and panicking in my silence. I clutched my bag close to me, trying my best to suppress the shuffling of my shoes. I took a deep breath. I’ll take this chance. I will.
Before I could say anything, Johnny’s phone rang.
“Hello? Yes. I’m on my way to work. Yes. Yes. Your journal’s with me. I’ll be there soon. Okay. I love you too.” He ended the phone call.
I looked out the train window again, my heart pounding loud in my chest. My eyes were going to fail me anytime soon, I know it. But I stayed calm for as long as I could. I could feel him get tense but he said nothing. The train was approaching a stop, I decided to get off on this one.
“I’m gonna head off now. You take care okay?” I blurted out these words without looking at him directly in the eye.
“Katherine, wait -“
“I’m sorry I need to go. It was nice seeing you. Take care okay?” I waved and quickly got out. I walked quick, knowing nothing but to get as far as possible away from the train. I thought I heard footsteps catching up to me. But I turned around and found nobody.
I sat on a bench, forehead on my knees, palms over my eyes. My heart sank. I whimpered. The station to the park was three stops previous to this one. And I knew that.
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