This is my short story for yesterday’s prompt… short stories have always confounded me, but I actually had a lot of fun writing this. Hopefully you will have fun reading it as well.
Light in the Window
The train station is almost too crowded to think. The click of suitcase wheels echo across the room along with half finished conversations. A woman with a sick son cuts in front of us. We smile at them, but they do not seem to notice. We shrug to each other as we climb onto platform five. The train is ten minutes late; or so says the billboard.
I drape my coat over my arm; the train is late again. I swore I would not complain. They keep changing the billboard to say that will arrive in ten minutes. But anyone knows something is wrong when they have been standing around for close to an hour. Something must have happened on the tracks. I am going to be late again.
A train horn blows behind us. We try not to move and are momentarily deaf. We keep our hands close as a crowd swells around us. We have to keep our heads down. We try not to hold onto each other. For once, we can be thankful that no one ever seems to see us.
You would think people would plan ahead. My phone rings and I try not to shriek as I yank it open. Candice’s shrill voice is even worse when I am listening through a phone’s speaker. I tap my foot and keep track of time as she berates me for a full five minutes. She can complain and threaten me as much as she wants, but everyone knows that she needs me. My specialized skills are entirely irreplaceable. And she has the sense to recognize that.
The billboard has not changed. Our hands become clammy as we try not to wring them in worry. We cannot be late. We have the sense to know that no good will come of showing up even a moment late. They do not trust us with cell phones. It will be our fault if we show up later than expected. The ten minutes listed on the billboard revert back to fifteen and we want to throw up.
I snap the cell phone shut. I do not want to think about Candice. My briefcase feels far too heavy, but I do not dare to set it down. Damn these trains, it is like the entire world wants me to fail.
We move closer to each other and clamp our hands together. We do not want to think about what will happen when we arrive at our destination. We do not want to think of anything at all. We do not have a choice; the thin threads that tie us together cannot stand the snip of a large pair of scissors. No matter what we do, scissors will always be in front of us.
I was supposed to be at the office twenty minutes ago. These damn trains. The people here should at least try to be honest. I suspect that the train will not arrive for another half-hour. If only I had another way of getting to the office. This transportation system is far too simple for such a large town.
We do not know what we will do. We are late again. We cannot come up with an excuse. No one will believe us if we say that the train was late. The train station is buzzing, but platform five stays still. People shuffle their feet and a child cries out in front of us. We try to stare straight ahead and hope that it will make us invincible.
The train finally arrives and I jostle my way into the right car. I take a seat by the window and hold onto the briefcase with both hands. My phone buzzes in my pocket and I curse the invention of such a ridiculous device. Candice starts yelling at me as soon as I answer. I ignore her pitched tone and nod along to the horrible elevator music dripping down from the ceiling.
We breathe a sigh of relief as the train arrives and we hurry to the last row of seats. We press our clenched hands together. The train car is silent. Attendants stand in the entrance to the next car. We keep our heads down and try to move as little as possible. We would whisper if we could, but even our breathing sounds too loud.
A man toward the front of the car breaks into a coughing fit. An attendant hands me a cup of water. I scowl as the briefcase starts to slip off of my lap. The water spills across the front of my shirt as I grab onto the briefcase and yank it back. The attendant immediately flies toward me and thrusts napkins into my hands. I begrudgingly wipe the water off of my shirt and try not to wince at the cold. For once, I wish that the train had been later than it was.
We move our feet in impatience. We stop as a couple in homespun clothes look in our direction. We try to be silent and still. We will not cause a riot.
My assigned car is larger than most on the train. I am part of a majority, and thank all the things that be for that fact. It may be the second to last train car, but it is by far the best cared for. Most of the people surrounding me are only here because of their grandparents’ decisions. Everyone is in their respected cars because of their origins.
We do not have choices to make. We wish that the train had never arrived. Perhaps we could have left platform five and found a different place to work. We wish that we could make different decisions than our grandparents; and we wish they had had a choice. We do not have the right to wish. But we do anyway.
All of these damn people. All of them are sitting in their cushioned seats without an inkling of how lucky they are. A simple life would be too much for most of them. They just want their gold platters and their damn briefcases.
We hold our breath as the train stops. The door opens and we scurry into the train station. The wooden platforms underneath each door are rotted and speckled from the chemicals in the occasional rain. We thank our ancestors for the clear day and make sure to hold onto each other.
An attendant bids me farewell as I climb off of the train. The briefcase feels like a bomb in my hand. God, what I would give for a moment to actually look at the city. The train station is far busier than I am used to. It is a good thing that I already know where I am going. Any traveller would be lost in the fray. I yank the briefcase to my hip as I climb to the skyscraper stairway. I wish I could avoid the passages that will take me to my employer.
We follow a woman with a toddler to the stairs. Our legs are aching by the time we reach the first landing. At least the staircase is quiet. The skyscrapers reach high above us. The city is large enough that no one ever touches the ground. We try to comfort each other even though we know that we will not be able to. We keep our hands together and move slowly.
Candice will have a fit when I finally arrive at the office. At least the briefcase I am carrying guarantees my safety. For the moment at least. I am moving slower than usual. But I refuse to pick up my pace. Footsteps climb the stairs behind me. I look over my shoulder as I reach the next landing.
We try to keep our distance from the person in front of us. But our shoes make too much noise for us to go unnoticed. The person in front of us meets our eyes and we no longer know where we are.
The people behind me stare right back. I try to think of something to say, but it would be pointless anyway. They are probably workers for one of the houses on the upper levels of skyscrapers. I stop as they continue to climb forward without loosing eye contact. They seem too young to be caught up in the lines around them, but their worried eyes tell a different story. And yet, their joined hands prove that they still have the ability to cling onto the world.
The person in front of us stops walking. We stop when we are on the last step before the landing. The person clutches a shiny brown briefcase and turns to the door on the other side of the landing. We hold our breath for a moment before following. The person grips onto the door as though it is the cause of a lifetime of pain.
The two people follow me. I pull open the door and push it to the side. The two people stand behind me as I step out of their way. I wait for them.
We stare at the door and wonder why it is being held open. We step through it after a far-too-long moment. The person with the briefcase follows us into the narrow hallway on the other side of the threshold. The door swings closed and we cannot keep our heads down as we watch the person with the briefcase across from us.
I stare at the two people who are waiting for me to make a move. I shrug to them after a moment and turn away. I look over my shoulder to see them turn in the opposite direction. They walk in step with each other. Their hands are clenched together tightly enough that they could be on the desk of a ship in the rotation of a hurricane and not break apart.
We look over our shoulders when we are sure that the person with the briefcase is not watching us. The briefcase is still shiny. It seems to weigh the person down like a ship’s anchor. It seems to be just as heavy as an anchor. The person with the briefcase is determined enough not to let go. Our joined hands keep us in place as we stare. We turn back to the hallway and wonder why our feet no longer seem to be slogging forward at the pace of a river stone.
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