Home > photos and photography, prose and poetry > today, tomorrow, and every other day afterwards

today, tomorrow, and every other day afterwards

have a seat

I took this photo on the LRT back from meeting up with a guy on Friday morning. I’m around 60 bucks richer. Whee. I really like the photo, and it’s a candidate for that potential printing and framing of photos I mentioned in my last (I think?) entry.

What’s special about this one is that it inspired me to write a story. And, after many hours of thought and whining to a friend (heheh =p) I managed to finish it. I think it’s quite good, actually, and I’m quite proud of finishing it. Some parts may need some work, but overall I think it’s quite alright.



Someone once told me that “the beginning and the end are unimportant,” and that “it’s the journey that matters.” Back then it all seemed like a load of cock, but these days I guess it is true, what he said. That the only thing that really matters is the journey. Not wherever you came from, and not wherever you’re heading to. It’s the distance in between. The difference between “here” and “there,” between the present and the future. Between where you’re from and where you’re headed.

It’s about the centimetres, the metres, the kilometres. About the seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days, the weeks, the months, the years.

And I guess it’s cliché, but things don’t become clichés if they’re not true, do they?

No, no they don’t.

For me it was always small journeys within a greater journey. Those “small journeys” were train rides, week after week, always the same ads, the same disembodied voice piped through speakers announcing the next station, the same sights passing by the windows. Concrete, metal, trees and then more concrete, accompanied by the constant rumble of wheels on a track and, occasionally, overpowering screeches from those same wheels at certain points on the track.

Always at the same points. Always.

And, as for that greater journey, well . . . I didn’t know anything about it back then, and I sure as hell know nothing about it now. It is, I guess, that journey everyone calls “life.” That mysterious thing that’s supposed to exist and that everyone’s supposed to go through. Everyone except you. Other people’s lives always seem to be going by in fast forward, their journeys constantly eventful and meaningful, constantly progressing, while yours ends up reminding yourself of a snail in treacle. Slow, almost immobile. Nothing doing. Nothing at all.

I had (and still have, actually,) a car, a battered old 1986 Toyota Corolla AE86, but I never really took it anywhere. It spent most of its life parked in the driveway — only getting some “exercise” when I had to run errands, on special occasions and whenever I had to go out of town — while I spent most of my life in the city on trains and buses, listening to music through tinny headphones while just staring out into space in order to while away the slow pace of public transportation. Sometimes I didn’t even listen to music. I’d just stuff the headphones into my ears in an effort to muffle the sounds of people talking about things like the weather and what they had for lunch, and to let me hear myself think.

A rare luxury on public transportation, that. The ability to hear yourself think. Very, very rare indeed.

A friend of mine once asked my why I never used that car to go anywhere, instead preferring to “waste my time” on cramped and noisy trains and buses. And, you know, I really couldn’t answer his question. I asked myself that question again and again over the next week or so, but I couldn’t find any sort of answer within me. None at all.

It was a cause of much grief and self-doubt, but then, suitably, while I was on a train, I realized that perhaps, just perhaps, I liked all the long train rides and cramped buses that I had to endure. I liked the strange familiarity of always seeing the same ads, the same disembodied voices piped through speakers and the same sights passing by the windows: concrete, metal, trees and then more concrete.

You see, those lonely rides on public transport were the only moments when I could safely say that I was alone and had myself to myself, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t, but let me try and explain. During those rides, no-one else cared about me. I didn’t matter to anyone else. I was just another nameless face in the crowd, another human being. I was in my own world, as far as they were concerned, and vice versa. I didn’t bother them, and they didn’t bother me. It’s ironic, really, that the moments when I had the most space to myself were the moments when I had to share space with so many other people.

And then there were the times that the trains were nearly empty, and the buses only contained a few old people, nodding off to sleep in their chairs as the bus trundled on towards its destination. Those times were even better. They were times when I had space to myself in a truly physical sense as well. I could stretch out without having to wonder if I was entering anyone’s personal space, I could talk to myself without having the person beside me look at me in an odd way, I could just sit there, go all misty-eyed and wish that every day was like that. Me, myself, alone, with no-one to bother me, no-one who cared. And no-one looking in my direction, to boot.

Perhaps this may not make sense to some. How can I say that the only times I had to myself were the times I spent in crowded buses and trains? How can I say that I had the most space to myself when in those kinds of situations?

Well, you see, staying at home was, for lack of a better word, tiring. I lived with a few friends in a dingy old single-storey terrace house in a less-than-reputable part of town. Not a nice neighbourhood, by any stretch of the imagination. That bothered me early on, but I got used to it. What I never got used, to, though, was my housemates. They weren’t bad people per se, but they were, without a doubt, singularly useless. None of them had any sort of steady job, instead always hopping from dead-end job to dead-end job, complaining about their bosses and their pay when it was obvious that the problem lay with them, and not anyone else.

Every time I was at home, one of them’d come up to me and ask a favour of me. Maybe some cash to settle debts (I was fortunate enough to get monthly cash injections from my dear parents, bless their souls,) maybe a ride to a friend’s place, maybe help with finding a new job. Always something, all the time. I never really had time to myself, really, between all my “commitments” at home and all the piles of work my lecturers would give me. And so it was like that, my home life: work and annoyances.

I don’t know why they always had to bother me. I still don’t, come to think of it. Maybe the fact that my “room” was also the living room had something to do with it.

I had always wanted to cut myself free from them back then, and move somewhere else. But there was something holding me back, something that kept telling me “not yet, not yet,” as if there was ever going to be a proper time to move out of there. I kept hoping for vacancies to be available at one of the university-affiliated apartments or condos, but now, as I think of it, I realize that I never really looked for them.

University life wasn’t much fun either. I was a busy, busy man there. I always had classes to go to, people to see, things to help people with, crap like that. For the amount of things I did at university, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I was an important, well-known person. But no, I wasn’t. I was a nobody. But a nobody who always had to see and talk to “somebodies,” a nobody who was always doing something for a “somebody.”

I didn’t like it much, I’ll be honest. It sucked. But I kept telling myself that one day it’d all pay off, that someday people would be helping me instead, and then I’d finally have time to do things, to live the student life, to enjoy myself. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, to be honest, as I’m still stuck in pretty much the same rut, but I’m not giving up hope just yet.

So, now you can see why I liked those long, lonely and boring rides on public transportation so much, why I’d always breathe a sigh of relief when the train or bus started moving and I was on my way. I was well and truly nobody to the people on the bus. No one came to me with pleading eyes asking for help with something, no one looked down on me as I tried to convey someone else’s request. None of that crap. They were in their own respective worlds, and I was in mine.

And I thought that it’d stay that way forever, which I didn’t think was a bad thing at all, to be honest.

But then she appeared. And everything . . . well, ok, nearly everything changed.

It was a rainy, rainy Monday. A blue Monday, you could say, although it was more grey and black than actually anything approaching blue. I had already been on the bus for a while and was drifting asleep, no doubt aided by the rain, when she came in. She looked around and sat down at the only empty seat in the bus, which so happened to be the seat right beside me. I normally paid no attention to the people getting on or off the bus, and not even the people sitting beside me, but she was . . . different, for lack of a better word. There was just something about her that caught my eye, that made me notice her.

She smiled at me as she sat down beside me. I’d like to think I managed a smile in return, but to this day I’m not entirely sure. As the bus began to move, she turned to the book she was carrying, and I turned my gaze back out the rain-flecked window and gazed at the jammed-up highway and the grey, grey skies far away on the horizon amidst the towering skyscrapers. I knew that we’d be there for a while, since the jam wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. So I sank back in my chair and tried to relax.

But I couldn’t. Not with her sitting beside me. I kept feeling this strange desire to just look at her and to stare at her features until something inside me was satiated. I tried to control myself, but it was difficult. More difficult than I’d ever imagine. I couldn’t stop sneaking glances at her, trying not to rouse her attention, but trying to soak in as much of her as I could. I wanted to say something to her, to make conversation, to get to know her a bit, to at least try and calm myself down. But I didn’t know what to say.

Looking back, I guess that was the moment when the bubble burst and my world was no longer about me alone.

It all happened like in one of those cheesy romantic summer movies: she was drinking some seemingly piping-hot drink from her thermos, and when the bus lurched forward, you guessed it, she spilled whatever it was onto me. Fortunately, a lot of it landed on my bag, but there was still quite a bit that landed on my left thigh, and I jolted up and screamed, half in pain, half in shock. It was hot.

She was incredibly apologetic about it, which, to be honest, really wasn’t a surprise. I mean, if you spill hot . . . tea, I think, on some stranger in a bus and you’re not apologetic, then, well, there’s something wrong with you. After the requsite apologies and “are you okay?”-s, after the heat of the tea had dissipated and after the eyes of the bus’ other occupants had turned away and returned to their own business, we began talking, much to my surprise.

And, silly me, I don’t remember what it was that we talked about. But, really, does it even matter much, in the grand scheme of things? I don’t think so. I was too absorbed by her voice, by her beauty, by . . . her to really pay attention to what it was that we were talking about. I do, however, remember her talking about her home situation and nothing how similar it was to mine, and how the situation at her part-time job was much like my life at university as well.

As it turns out, this near-complete stranger who I’d never met before actually had more things in common with me than nearly every one of my friends. And I felt this odd . . . attraction, this strange feeling of utter desire towards her. It was not just lust, nor was it just a trifling infatuation, no. I know those feelings very, very closely, and what I felt that day was more than those feelings. More than anything I ever felt before or have felt since.

That bus ride was the polar opposite of every other bus ride I’d had up to that point. Instead of being lost in my own world with only myself for company (a situation which, if I may be allowed to repeat myself, I was entirely happy with,) I had someone else with me, someone who wasn’t a complete stranger in her own world. Someone who bothered with me, but didn’t actually bother me. I greatly enjoyed talking with her, whiling away the long, extended bus ride. She couldn’t have picked a better day to jump into my world.

And, all too soon, she had to jump back out. As much as I wanted the bus ride not to end and for it to just go on forever, it had to. We had reached her stop, and it was time for her to go. Our exchange then was probably the only conversation that I’ve ever really remembered clearly, and certainly the only one that I remembered from that day.

“Hey, I’ve . . . got to go. This is my stop just up ahead.”

“I see. Well . . . you have a good day, then.”

I tried to smile, to look alright. I don’t know if I managed to do so. But she did. She smiled.

And, smiling, she said: “You too. Bye.”

And she turned and walked out the bus, perhaps taking some part of her with me. In the time that we’d spent together just talking and sharing random tidbits about our lives, I’d realized just how much I missed having someone to talk to during my lonely bus and train rides, how I missed having someone that I didn’t feel some sort of dislike for. I wanted to follow her, I really did. To lie and say that it was my stop too, and that I was headed in the same direction that she was. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t bring myself to say that, to . . . lie to her.

I tried to keep track of her amidst the huge, bustling crowd of people and their umbrellas, handbags and briefcases at the bus stop, but I lost sight of her as soon as she got further than a few feet from the bus. But, as I was about to give up and focus my eyes on something else, I saw her again.

She was looking back at me. Our eyes met for a moment, and she smiled again. A smile that I haven’t been able to forget. I don’t know what she meant or what she was trying to say, but in hindsight, perhaps she was trying to say that I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I felt.

As the bus slowly pulled out back into the rain and the heavy traffic, I put my headphones on again and listened to some music to try and straighten myself out, to try and make sense of my feelings. To drown out the voices screaming inside my head.

And It was only later, much, much later, that I suddenly realized two very important things.

One, that I’d probably never see her again.

Which was true. I never have. Ever.

And, secondly, horribly, that the stop she disembarked at, it was also . . . my stop.

  1. Zara Suhaimee
    Mar 5, 2008 at 17:45

    this is so romantic! and perhaps the last part about u not stop at your stop, is so funny. i laughed. keep up your writing dude. love them, they inspired me (my english is so bad, sorry, i’m still working on it) (:

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