Her soul was tired. She looked at her shoes as she entered the train, they were covered in soot from her walk past the factory. No one made eye contact here. It’s a place where lost souls congregate, desperate to connect, but punish those who speak or make eye contact. Kindness is ostracized. As if only the socially incompetent would smile or look at each other intentionally in such a confined space. She wanted desperately to connect with someone. Across the aisle, she could see his dusty work boots. He always sat in the same spot unless there was a woman who needed a seat. Sometimes after giving up his seat, he would stand too close and hold one of the handrails. She was careful to look away, out the train window, examining the raw concrete wall as it sped by. A reflection of his eyes met hers in the glass of the train window. She instinctively looked away. How daft he must think she is for staring at a cement wall.
His day was long, his hands ached. He longed more than anything to find a seat next to her. He always gave up his seat to be kind and to be closer to her. He hoped she noticed. Surely, she had noticed at least once, that he always gave his seat away. He would give it to her if he had the chance. He would do it just for that courtesy smile, to see her face in full. Any chance to look at her without her knowing he was looking. He knew she was repulsed by him. It was evident in the way she turned away every time he came near. He was sure he smelled horrific, like tar and sweat. The kind of stink that detergent never quite washed clean. The smell of someone who spends all day on their feet, wishing there was someone at home. It was the smell of loneliness, of city life, of someone unloved. She even looked away when their eyes met in a reflection.
She wondered if he liked cookies. She liked to bake. Maybe she could bring cookies and offer them around. But only a crazy person would take cookies from a woman on the train. Her dress was new. Maybe he noticed. She felt she was plain, and time was evident on her face. Maybe he liked pot roast. She knew how to make a lovely pot roast.
He saw her smile once. She was looking at a toddler who was hanging over the seat. Her smile was vibrant, such an incredible contrast to the expression she wore most days. He imagined she would be a kind and loving mother to his children. The children he would have with her. He imagined her on a picnic in the country, wearing the dress she was wearing now. It was flighty, silly, floral, a desperate attempt at femininity in uncomfortable contrast with the city. It was unnecessary, like the flowers he wanted to give her. She pulled the fabric down against her knees and he knew she had caught him looking. Now she would think he was a pervert.
She pulled the fabric taught against her knee to cover the bruise on the side of her thigh. She had fallen asleep on the couch watching the telly. When she got up she found her way by smacking her leg into a coffee table. She hated that table. She wondered if he was a carpenter. Maybe he made things, beautiful sculpted pieces of art that adorned the homes of upper class people with country homes. She held the fabric down against her thigh afraid that he had seen the bruise. He would imagine her as plain, clumsy, and lazy. She was lazy, too lazy to touch up her smudged mascara and lip gloss at the end of the day. He wasn’t looking anyway. And she fell asleep on the sofa most nights. It didn’t matter, there was no one waiting in her bedroom.
He wondered how he would recover from being caught looking at her legs. Her lovely slender legs. He should have kept to himself. She wore her hair in a bun that loosened during the day. Wisps framed her face. Her mascara was smudged gently at the base of her lashes in a way that was unmistakably sultry, designed for other men, men she made eye contact with.
The train pulled to a stop. When the doors opened, she stood and walked out with her eyes averted. He watched her walk away and turn up the platform, waiting for the day she would look back at him.
She was careful never to embarrass herself by looking at him while leaving the train.