Another day, another journey back home. If anything in my life remained constant, it’d be the subway ride. Board at this station, transfer at that station, and disembark at the other station. Even the crowds of people hardly ever change. Acting as a collective, they suffocate any semblance of individuality. None of them have ever talked to me, not even to exchange polite pleasantries, and the expectation is that I do the same. Conformity is rewarded and aimless smalltalk looked down upon. That’s how it always is and how it always will be.
Sitting in a train car and reading a book to pass the time (the unchanging scenery grew old for me long ago), I let my focus drift slightly. Those in the seats around me are absorbed in their own distractions: reading a newspaper, looking at a smartphone, earbuds isolating them from their surroundings, maybe reading a book like me (though I would never try to strike up any sort of conversation), or taking the closest possible thing to a nap. It never changes. Even the cars themselves are identical. Uniform in appearance, save for the advertisements placed on the inside. Society demands consistency and predictability, after all. As the train comes to a stop at the next station, the dull hum of the wheels rolling along the tracks fading, I brace myself against the seat. The person next to me stirs, preparing to exit the train. It’s not really important who they are or what they’re doing—all I know is that they occupy space next to me.
The doors open, with the usual flow of people out as well as the influx of people boarding the train. Normally I’d dismiss this as part of the twice-daily routine, but I have a sense that I should give my undivided attention this time. As passengers start shuffling in, looking for any available seats, one in particular catches my eye.
A girl, probably in her late teens, with coral brown hair pulled up into a ponytail that’s tied together with a white bow and eyes a striking shade of green. No, emerald. She’s wearing a slightly frilly white top paired with a navy blue skirt long enough to cover what’s important, along with black leggings.
Her presence exudes some sort of déjà vu. Have I seen this girl before? Maybe, but I can’t put my finger on it clearly enough. I consider trying to get her attention with a gentle tap on the shoulder, but after that I don’t know how I’d continue the interaction without breaching social propriety. As soon as she sat down, she pulled out a book from her bag and with pencil in left hand started intently staring at it, so it’d be impolite to interrupt her train of thought. And even if she is who I think she is, I’m not sure she’d exactly be enthralled by that. I stare out the window for a moment in a desperate grab for inspiration, but there’s nothing but darkness to serve as scenery since the subway is of course underground.
I’m struck with a sudden idea. I run my fingers through my coat pocket and locate a pencil. With it, I underline sentences in my book with a newfound fervor, hard enough to produce the sound of pencil scratching against paper. My hand runs along the same words a few times. I’m still not sure if she’ll notice, but if I can’t look away from my book to tell. With any luck, she’ll wonder what I’m doing, right? And if not…
I keep running my pencil along the paper, producing a mess of graphite lines in my book. It’s a bit of a shame that I’ve ended up defacing the page, but it’s a small price to pay. Satisfied, and hopefully not drawn too much unwanted attention, I turn my head back up and stop drawing. I steal a glance at my potential partner to see if she’s noticed. Although she hardly even looks up, I have the distinct impression that she’s waiting for my next move.
I flip to the next page. My eyes dart around it, trying to look for the right words.
“Do”… “we”… “know”… “each”… “other?” Her eyes follow my hand as I underline each word with a single clean stroke. I wait with bated breath for any sign of a response, and, just as I’ve given up hope, her own hand starts moving on her book.
“I”… “don’t”… “think”… “so.” Those are the very words I had been afraid to hear. My spirit wavers upon hearing them, but I forge on anyway. Even if it turns out that it isn’t actually her, I’ll never be able to live with myself if I let my one chance slip out from between my fingers.
I return to my own book, my hand trembling slightly. “Are”… “you”… “sure?” I pray wordlessly for an answer. Please. Please let it actually be her. I’ve waited for too long.
Her eyes open wider as her face changes from a dull and almost disinterested expression to one of surprise. “I”… “don’t”… “know.” That’s certainly better than a definite “yes,” at least…
I contemplate what to respond next, doing my best to think quickly enough to avoid breaking the flow of “conversation” entirely. What if she stops paying attention? What if she thinks I’m delusional? What if it turns out I was wrong after all? I take a deep breath, then return to underlining words, this time more aggressively.
“Is”… “your”… “name”… “Monika?” The last word I’m forced to underline individual letters for, but as I do, I watch her expression change once again to one of total recognition.
Her hand trembles now as she quickly underlines, “Yes, it is.” My suspicions are confirmed. I’m rejoicing internally, but that’s cut short as she underlines a few more words. “But my stop is soon.” Those five words send a chill down my spine. I have only a few minutes to do something if I want to ever see Monika again.
Crap. You have to work quickly if you don’t want to lose her. I frantically underline the words, “Don’t go.” before quickly working in a “Please.”
I look more closely at her eyes, tears almost welling up in them in recognition, in joy, in sadness, in fear…? A stray tear leaves its imprint on the page of her book as she hurriedly flips through the pages, finally settling on one.
“I want to stay with you forever.” Her tears flow more freely now, splattering all around the page and smearing the ink. Her right hand pushes into my side slightly, which I grasp with my right hand, reaching over my body. I use my free hand to underline two more words.