The Train

It’s late afternoon and you are sitting on the train, on the long commute home. You take a deep breath, and contemplate your day. Was today a good day, or a bad one? What about that girl over there? How was her day? 
You look to her, and try to figure out what kind of life she has going on. She’s got her headphones in, and you can see she’s got a backpack of books at her feet. Her long hair hangs loose around her face, a hat pulled low over her brow. You look at her eyes, they are kind of glassy, kind of faraway.  She’s lost in thought, absently tapping her fingers to the beat of unheard music. You guess at the music she’s listening to, figuring some kind of upbeat pop based on her appearance and age.

What you don’t realize, is that that girl is getting ready to decide her future. She’s in her final year of high school, but she has no idea what she wants to pursue. She’s listening to her older brother’s music, because he left for college two years ago, with a plan and a goal, and he’s been successful. She misses her brother, despite the fights and sibling rivalry, he always had her back growing up. Now she felt alone. Facing the daunting pressure of choosing her future, she felt utterly unprepared.  She wasn’t a strong student, had no real interests in continuing education, but her parents were asking everyday whether she had applied to a college, whether she had picked a career, what she was planning to do with the rest of her life. She had no idea. Her spaced out eyes were trying to imagine the future, that to her just looked blank. 

You look to the girl beside her, writing or drawing away in her notebook. She held her tongue between her teeth in concentration, as she furiously moved the pencil across the page.  The passion flowed out of her for her artwork. You guessed she was about 16, and still had  a way to go to grow up.

But, behind that pencil, is her parent’s disapproval of her love of art. She would never be able to pursue her talents in school, because it’s “not a career.” She studies hard to please her parents, but still, all they ever are is disappointed with her. She does her art in secret, on the train, and squeezes as much of it into the time her parents can’t control. Her future is bright, but being steered by her parent’s will. She longs to be able to take an art course, to enhance her natural talent, to be able to explore where her passion might take her. In her bag are books on math and science, the courses she studies so hard to pass. 

The two young men in suits catches your attention, as they are in a heated discussion about their new jobs. They feel the pressure to perform, to compete with one another to get the bosses attention. They are talking about the projects they are taking on, and bragging about what they would do to get the best review.

The man on the left though, last week his girlfriend had packed her belongings and left him, because he cares about the job more than her. He is heartbroken, but can not let the other man see him struggle. So he forges on, even with the light in his eyes gone. The man on the right; His mother is ill, fighting a losing battle with cancer. The doctors told him that she only has a few months left to live. He wishs he could spend it by her side, but he has to do well in this job to keep his livelihood. His mother would want him to be successful,he tells himself. She would want him to prove his worth. He had spent his last few dollars to pay for the suit he is wearing, knowing that his mother would smile to see him so successful, so put together. But he knows too, that this suit is what he would be wearing to her funeral. 

You look around the train, taking in all the bustle and commotion. The headphone girl had gotten off, walking slowly, but with a bounce to the beat. The Artist is still scribbling in the notebook. A father holding the hand of a little boy, about 6 or 7 gets on. The young men in suits stand up and offer the little boy and father his seat. The boy is excited, talking gibberish about trains, and pointing at colours, and asking his dad question after question. You see the father, his eyes deep sunk, worry lines apparent on his face. He looks to be in his late 30s, dressed simply in a t-shirt and jeans. The man struggles to maintain his smile when the boy isn’t looking. He is tired, and frustrated. He longs to be at home, where he can drink his whiskey in peace. He doesn’t think it’s a problem, he just wants to sleep more soundly. Ever since the divorce, he only has his son from Friday after school until Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t a fair deal, but that time together makes him happy. He loves to pick him up and hear about his week at school. He is the light of his life. He smiles, and answers the boy’s questions as best as he can. He wants to take him to the zoo this weekend, but he knows he can’t afford the entrance tickets. He would need to save his coffee money for the next 4 weeks, and eat nothing but canned soup. He could do it, to see his boy smile so big and wide. Things will get better, he thinks.

The two young men get off at the next stop, still arguing and bragging about their work. A young mother gets on, pushing a stroller with an infant. The infant looks around, taking in all the newness that surrounds her. She is quiet, but mommy was close, so there is nothing to be scared of. The Artist stands up and gives her seat to the mom. She puts away her notebook, and the light fades from her eyes as she pulled on her bag laden with books. The young mother thanks her, and picks her young infant up. They have just left the doctors office. Everything is good, she has a healthy baby.  She hugs the baby tight, but still doesn’t feel attached to her. She knew the baby was a part of her, and that she would forever be a part of her life, but she still doesn’t understand the empty feeling. She feels numb, and that scares her. She tried talking to her partner about it, but they end up in a fight over nothing. Emotions are high, stress is high. All baby does is eat, sleep, and cry. The young mother feels numbness, but also feels that she is losing her partner to the baby. She is being consumed by the new thing she brought into the world. Her partner, her family, her friends, they don’t want to talk to her, just the baby. She feels a little resentment, a little estranged.

She smiles politely to the Artist and thanks her for her courtesy.  The train moves onward. You look around at the strangers on the train, and realize- you only get a glimpse of the moment they are on that train. They each have a past, a present, and a future, with lives as complex as yours. They all go home to face their struggles. You get off the train at the next stop, the Artists lugs her books, and heads east. You walk west, to face your own struggles, just another passenger on the train. 

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