Sunday, October 25, 2009

From March

I was sitting in Fremantle train station, waiting, as one does, for a train. A girl walked past me and sat a few seats down - beautiful, pretty, cute, upturned nose like a ski-jump, circular scar on her right shoulder, tied up dark hair. She was crying. Absolutely sobbing into her sunglasses, then wiping away whatever tears happened to flow out from under them. She would stop momentarily, then look up again in my direction, then start crying again.

I sat there, thinking. Should I go over? What would I do? I imagined getting up and walking over, but then this is the conversation I imagined in my head:

ME: Are you OK?

SHE: *Cries*

ME: *lost for words because she's obviously NOT OK which is why she's crying so it's a really dumb question to ask*

So I sat there for a while, dicing through hypothetical scenarios, until the train arrived.

On board, we sat in a similar set up: her to my right with about 4 seats between us. Like me, she checked and adjusted her hair in the window's reflection, but unlike me she was (still) crying. I revised my imagined conversation:

ME: Hi, sorry, but are you OK?

SHE: No.

*shakes head, not looking at me*

I'm not.

ME: Well... if there's anything at all I can do as a complete and total stranger on a train, let me know yeah?

SHE: *looks at me, nods*

But I was too scared to. By this stage, other people started getting on the train - the first, three Swedish tourists, sitting across from us. They seemed to note her crying, but they sat amongst themselves with their foreign tongue. This was now tough - any interaction I made with the crying girl would now have an interested audience.

"Hey! Remember that guy who talked to that girl on the train and she yelled at him for coming up and talking to her like a creep when she was obviously just upset? In Australia? Hans! Remember that?"

So I kept my mouth shut.

More people arrived. Middle aged Japanese couple, girl with nose ring, and young couple, who sat across from the girl. More than anyone else they too noted her crying, but made no show of it. By now the girl seemed to have hit a spot of quiet resignation - she looked almost wistful. Then she quickly took her phone out to read something.

The train started. The girl-half of the young couple showed off their newest acquisition: some Japanese toy. It was composed of two mechanical dolls, like squat spinning tops, which sat upon a small stage with a circular track. She placed the dolls on the track, then wound the stage up below. The dolls started to spin - spin around the track and spin around themselves, while the whole contraption began to play Beethoven's "Fur Elise" in stops and starts. I smiled.

I decided I had to say or do something otherwise I would regret it forever. Maybe it would have no effect. Maybe it would result in my humiliation. But maybe it would change everything. It seemed like a sensible bet to take with that in mind.

I had only one stop, because I was getting off at North Fremantle. I thought: I can't go over and talk to her, because the minute I do, I'll have to leave, and that would be redundant. Maybe I could write something for her, I decided. Just something, anything, to show her that she somehow wasn't alone, that somehow someone cared. But I had no pen or paper. I looked in my wallet - most cards couldn't be written on (The Shearing Shed, Fi&Co, Igor & Katja, the W.A. Police), but a few were white. I couldn't use one of my therapist's cards ("Hi! I see you're crying on a train. Take this card. You're obviously nuts and should be in therapy."), nor could I use my rent card (because I, well, needed it to pay the rent). The only thing left was a reciept I got from Soho-Soho the night before, when I payed for my fishcakes with eftpos because the meal cost $20.50 and I only had a $20 on me. It would do fine.

But I didn't have anything to write with. My mind started to get desperate - can I scratch an impression with my thumbnail? Do I carry lipstick? *Any* makeup I can use to write with? I realised I had to bite the bullet and be brave: I had to ask a stranger for a pen while on a train. I looked around: the girl with the nose ring had a bag.

"Sorry." I said, trying to get her attention. Failed.

"Sorry." I said again. "But do you happen to have a pen I could borrow?"

I repeated my question because she couldn't understand it, then started looking through her bag. I started making up excuses, saying

"I just had this thought that I really needed to jot down.", as if somehow needing a pen made me look like a freak or a loser and I had to hide this fact. She finally found a permanent marker and lent it to me, and I quickly jotted down a note on the back of the receipt. I gave it back, thanked her, then folded the note self-consciously - not wanting to show the message to anyone else on the train, and also wanting to avoid her thinking I had just given her a receipt for a burger joint.

My stop came, and I leant over to her and placed the note on her bag. She looked at me quizzically, but I stood up and walked passed her to the train door. I pressed the button for it to open, then stood, fixed like concrete in my place, staring straight ahead. Did she even see the note? Did she think it was rubbish? Did she open it up? Did she read it?

The train door opened and I stepped outside. Without turning back, I started to walk as the train rolled on. I decided that even if she didn't read the note, it didn't really matter. Because I trusted for her what I had written on it:

It'll get better.

So irregardless of me, it would.

I walked out of the train station, full of adrenaline and loving, even for this brief moment, what it meant to be human.

Then I walked back because I realised I hadn't tagged off.

The end.


  1. Hello! I've decided to follow you because I read this entry and it's so interesting.
    It was a nice thing to do - giving her the note - and you have a great way of expressing yourself in your writing :)

    P.S. North Freo is my stop.

  2. Thank you Elisa. I was thinking about this story today. Part of me wishes I was still less neurotic to simply go up to and attempt to comfort the girl from the beginning, but then life is very much about working with what you've got (whatever neurosis and paranoia that might be).