He arrived alone on a sunless humid Thursday afternoon. The three-day journey left his body sore and his romantic notion of cross-country train travel slightly diluted, in large part because she hesitated in introducing herself sooner. And life (like trains) doesn’t wait for anyone.
There was no one to greet him when he got off, and while everyone was looking forward to the eager hugs and long-awaited kisses of loved ones, he looked back at the train that brought him to this point. The engine’s roar was no more than a weary purr now. The train cars were empty and lifeless, the last of its souls having descended onto the platform. And the heat emanating from the steel beast’s underbelly made it all seem like a wavy dream. Not seeing her anywhere confirmed this feeling.
He picked up his belongings – a simple tan rucksack resting against a corroded column behind him and a worn black canvas duffle bag he was straddling between his legs – and continued off the crowded platform towards the station coffee shop to quench his thirst on this sultry afternoon while taking in the scenes around him and perhaps even borrowing some happiness from his fellow travelers. The beer was cheap, local and ice-cold. He nearly finished it with one long gulp, leaving just a sip’s worth behind to keep the waiter from harassing him. As he lowered the tall wet glass, he slowly opened his eyes and wiped the sumptuous foam resting on his upper lip. It was then that he caught a glimpse of her in the embrace of an unassuming man. He felt nothing at first…neither happiness, nor jealousy, nor regret; but soon after became curious to know exactly who this man was to her. So he began to observe the subtle details of their interaction with the detached eye of an anthropologist…
Their embrace was long and heartfelt, but the lack of a subsequent kiss instantly eliminated the possibility of him being her lover. Moments later, following a pause during which the man took one step back and examined her from her heels to her black bangs with an approving smile on his clearly smitten face (his hands never once letting go of her arms), they hugged again, this time a bit shorter than the first, and lacking in moxie. The second embrace wasn’t initiated by her, yet she obliged insipidly. She was also the first to pull away, awkwardly yet decidedly, the same way a child would from the smothering embrace of a smelly uncle. It was becoming apparent that they were nothing more than old friends and that the time apart had affected each of them differently. This pleased him for two reasons: it suddenly made the wavy dream an increasingly concrete reality and further proved a long-held belief that men and women could never be just friends.
The observer took his last sip of beer and casually walked over to the old friends: “It was a delight meeting you, Allyson. I hope our paths cross again.” And with that, he handed her a piece of paper, robbing her companion of his smile and reinvigorating hers.
– Christopher Troy
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