Train Hopper

¨¨ The woman had a face almost no one could forget. Her eyes were dark blue, her hair showed a bit of grey, but remained mostly dark, not quite black, and today it looked like something Lauren Bacall might have styled. She did look like she belonged in a movie with Humphrey Bogart. Perhaps she knew that no one could help but look at her. But she also looked like she either had decided to pretend it never bothered her, or had lost herself in thoughts, feelings or impressions that circumnavigated any self-consciousness she might have felt. If she wasn’t dressed in designer corduroy jeans and a dark blue designer’s silk blouse –  she’d either tailored or designed and created her own clothing. The jeans were brown when nobody was wearing brown and her shoes were soft leather, laced and tied and just as brown as her jeans.

¨¨ The man was tall and looked tired. His hair was fading from reddish to grey – was probably longer than hers and either slightly out-of-place or slightly wind-blown. His eyes were a greenish grey – He hadn’t shaved in at least a week. His jeans looked aged and comfortable, he wore a faded green flannel shirt and worn saddle shoes, a design that might have been ‘fashionable’ for a month or two in the middle 1980’s – You’d almost never guess they were anything like ‘together’. He sat at a table, under a shade tree, reading a magazine while she stood beside him.

¨¨ But she smiled and looked past him to what must have been extraordinarily happy memories – “Tell me how we met -”

¨¨ He looked up from his magazine and looked like he wondered if he should worry – “Have you forgotten?”

¨¨ “No -” she smiled, “I just wanted to hear what you remember -”

¨¨ He smiled, relaxed, turned his head slightly, as if he could see through a window that no one else knew was there – and see a vivid, full colour memory of a past that seemed like seconds ago, and close enough to touch and smell and breathe in like warm perfumed breezes from a garden –

¨¨ “We met on a train. Not the most modern train, even in those days, and quite crowded. You came into that car at a station and stood there for a moment, looking at several vacant seats and frowned about the people you would have to sit next to. There were empty seats, but always with a passenger sitting beside that empty seat. No completely empty double seats at all.

¨¨ “You looked at me and frowned, but looked at all your other choices and scowled, then took a breath and walked tentatively toward me, stopped, thought about it as the train began to move –

¨¨ “I was sitting on the aisle side, reading a book, with a knapsack on the seat beside me – facing the back of another seat, not a passenger facing me – and I was not near the window because the light coming in was quite bright and the trees were full and the constant strobing effect was distracting –

¨¨ “You stood there and waited for me to notice while I pretended I had no idea there was anyone there, until a sudden lurch on a slight bend nearly sent you flying into my lap and you caught yourself and cleared your throat. I looked up and toward you and you pointed, ‘Are you saving that seat for someone?’ –

¨¨ “I shook my head and told you, ‘I’ve been successfully scaring everyone away to the best of my ability -‘ and picked up my knapsack, put it on the floor beneath me with my foot through one of the straps and shrugged, I thought I made some kind of universal gesture that offered you that seat. –

¨¨ “You didn’t jump at the opportunity to step around me and sit down. I wondered if you expected me to stand up or somehow make myself a little less ‘in your way’ – But the train lurched again, you nearly lost your balance and decided to step over my big feet and sit by the window. –

¨¨ “We didn’t say much. I continued to read my book. You sat about as far away from me as you could and pretended the scenery was fascinating until we both reached our stop. I said I was getting off there and you frowned again and said it was your stop too. I thought it was my gentlemanly duty to let you go ahead of me and you might have been afraid I’d be following you so when I said, ‘Ladies first -‘ You replied, ‘No thank you -‘ and kind of glared like you were defying me to get out into the aisle and move along.

¨¨ “I think you followed me through the slight maze of the station platforms, and up into the big open station itself. A panhandler sized me up and guessed I might be more trouble than I might be worth and took a couple of steps toward you. You jumped to my side and grabbed my arm and started asking me if my big brother would be meeting us with the car. I somehow caught on right away, looked at my watch and grumbled, ‘You know how cops are, he’s probably been here for five minutes looking at all the potential ‘perpetrators’ in the place and keeping his hand near his holster -‘ –

¨¨ “The panhandler changed directions and went looking for somebody else to bother. You held on to my arm and kind of subtly steered me toward the buses, kept looking back over your shoulder and finally let go, said, ‘Sorry about that – but thank you for understanding -‘ I nodded and stood there until I knew you were safe on your bus and hoped that didn’t make you nervous. – Then I walked to my own bus and got a seat and didn’t think about you at all until the next day when you were on the train before I got on and held down an aisle seat in the one section that had several empty double seats. I sat in a seat across the aisle and one back until we slowed to a stop and you didn’t like the looks of some of the passengers that got on and you got up, crossed the aisle and pointed to my knapsack and asked, ‘Okay it I sit there?’ and cast a nervous glance to a couple tough looking guys on the platform. I nodded, you stepped over my legs and feet and sat down and smiled, and looked like you felt relieved. The tough guys got on the train and sat near us, kind of leered at you until we reached our stop. When we got up you held onto me like we’d been engaged or maybe newly married and the tough guys looked disappointed, but didn’t bother us. –

¨¨ “I saw you on the train every day for the rest of that week and you always smiled and moved over and let me know you were okay with me sitting beside you, protecting you from indigents and panhandlers and tough looking guys of all shapes and sizes. –

¨¨ She took advantage of a slight pause in his reverie, “And on Friday I asked you why none of the conductors ever seemed to bother you for a ticket or your train fare -”

¨¨ “And I probably shrugged and explained that I was pretty good at seeming invisible to conductors -” he grinned, wistfully.

¨¨*¨¨ *¨¨ *¨¨ *¨¨ *

¨¨She looked around, standing near the home-made table in the shade, surrounded by over-bright sunlight – She watched a family of small monkeys climb the branches of a nearby tree. “Funny, we’ve been here – How many times? And I never wondered what species of monkeys those are, or what types of trees these are.” She turned to look down at him, watched him glance toward the empty chair across the table and then smile up at her. But he didn’t answer.

¨¨“We certainly never had monkeys like that in the neighbourhood I grew up in -” She grinned, “- And those trees never grew anywhere near our little bedroom community between Bridgeport and New Haven.”

¨¨He smiled, “I guess not -”

¨¨“What would happen if we brought some of those guys with us on our next visit – I mean, if we could go back?” She sat down and smiled at the tree, the sky and the monkeys, “Would the biologists back there go absolutely crazy – or what?”

¨¨He shrugged, “Or – Did you ever try to get one to go for a ride in the Land Rover?”

¨¨“Not exactly -” she laughed. “I remember several of them climbing in an open window and having a look around, but I’m not sure I’d even want to get in the vehicle and turn the engine on with even one of them inside.”

¨¨“They’ve never bitten either one of us.” He caught the eye of a mother monkey while she groomed the hair on the head of the baby clinging to her, “But they are wild animals.”

¨¨“I’ve seen some of them eat out of your hand.” She nodded, “But not recently-”

¨¨He shrugged, “When we go away for six months at a time and come back, I’m not even sure the same families or tribes, or whatever groups they live in, are here when we come back. And I did worry, that since we can’t be here all the time, any of our part time neighbours might not appreciate a couple of them jumping down on their dinner tables and screaming at them.”

¨¨She sighed and nodded, “It’s tough to grow up and look at the world through responsible eyes -”

¨¨He grinned, maybe even laughed a bit.


¨¨“Not to change the subject or anything, but I was still remembering that first Friday back in New Haven.”

¨¨She grinned, “I pretended someone had stolen my money in an effort to trick you into offering to take me somewhere, at least for coffee.”

¨¨He nodded, “I think I knew you weren’t quite as upset as you would have been if somebody had walked off with your money, your I.D.s and credit cards – But I hoped that when I offered to walk a couple blocks and sit down at the coffee shop that that just might have been what you had in mind.”

¨¨She smiled.

¨¨“I don’t know if you noticed, but I was never the most socially adept person around.”

¨¨“I think I actually joked with one of my friends that you were so cute and clueless that you might have dropped in from an other planet.”

¨¨“Not exactly Superman -”

¨¨“Probably a lot better -” she stared away with her eyes unfocused, then nodded, “No Superman could ever have brought me here and sat there and read while the tea was brewing in our completely off-the-grid hut with monkeys and zebras and giraffes lurking about.”

¨¨It was his turn to look away and smile with his eyes unfocused, “I never thought that anyone anything like you would come along and change my life like that.”

¨¨She glanced his way, hoped that there wasn’t the smallest trace of regret in that far-away look, “I never dreamed that me latching on to your arm like that would have changed our lives so drastically.”

¨¨He turned to her and nodded, “I kind of like the way things turned out – Even if I would never have given us the old ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ at staying together for any length of time at all.”

¨¨She watched a giraffe lumber from one tree to another and begin munching on high leaves, “We were, after all, from two different worlds.”

¨¨He nodded, looked back at his magazine, “Literally -”

¨¨*¨¨ *¨¨ *¨¨ *¨¨ *

¨¨It was a hot day in July. She was wearing ‘safari’ gear, khaki cargo shorts and a khaki coloured multi pocketed shirt with military-inspired epaulettes. Even the straps of her sandals were khaki coloured. Her hair was impeccably brushed, as usual, and she was wearing designer dark glasses.

¨¨He was wearing a pair of slightly aged green denim cargo shorts, with a fabric belt, the kind that had two brass rings for the light and dark brown fabric to be pulled through and looped back on itself – This time he was wearing the dark blue short sleeved shirt with two breast pockets, but no epaulettes. And the shoes he were were cheap immitation ‘Dockers’, without socks.

¨¨She had a soft leather purse that might have been bigger than his knapsack, and probably cost more than everything he was wearing, and everything he was carrying, and then some.

¨¨As usual, there were several scary looking characters hanging around the train station. As he had in the past couple days, he walked her to her bus and stood there, expecting her to climb up onto the bus and totally ignore him until the bus was gone. But she slipped her purse around in front of her before she approached the bus and opened it and looked through it, and then gasped and gave him an alarmed look, turned her gaze into her purse again and began digging through it a bit more frantically. She looked terrified, “I couldn’t have left it at school – No –  I had to have it out to pay for my ticket – I couldn’t have left it in the station -“¨¨

¨¨“What? Left what?”

¨¨“My purse – all my money – my student I.D.s – My credit cards – I can’t pay for a bus, I can’t even buy myself a cup of coffee or use a pay phone to call somebody.”

¨¨He did look concerned, “I can certainly afford to give you a dime for the phone – or is it a quarter from here, now?”

¨¨She did look worried, shook her head, “But there’s nobody there right now – and there won’t be for at least an hour -”

¨¨“Do you want me to loan you enough money for the bus? Or would you rather walk up the street and let me buy you that cup of coffee and maybe something to go with it, then wait until you’re sure someone will be there before I give you the dime or the quarter and you can call – whomever?”

¨¨She looked confused and anxious for several seconds and then nodded slowly – “Maybe that would be the best idea.” She nodded a little more briskly.

¨¨The street was oddly quiet that evening and the sound of other people’s leather shoes hitting the pavement seemed louder and perhaps more distinct than usual and echoed more loudly or for a longer time than usual.

¨¨He noticed that and began to look around, like he was worried about something.

¨¨She noticed that he was acting like he was on guard and wondered if she should be worried.

¨¨They reached the coffee shop, came inside, found a seat, ordered coffee and a slice of pie each. The noises inside the coffee shop were reassuringly ‘normal’. They did relax. But at one point he turned and took a swipe at something, and killed a mosquito that oozed a sickening greenish mess, instead of the red blood he expected. He opened his knapsack, pulled out a first aid kit and opened a bandage, and a small bottle of alcohol, poured the alcohol into the bandage and wiped his hands with it.

¨¨“Do you carry a first aid kit wherever you go?” She asked.

¨¨He nodded, “I have two co-workers with extreme allergies and I keep two syringes with their emergency injections with me in case they get stung or go unconscious and can’t inject themselves. I have doctor’s notes and letters from friendly police officers that I have to keep handy so no over zealous rookie cop might think he’s made the bust of the century if he searches me and finds the syringes -” he sighed, carefully wiped up and folded all traces of the weird mosquito inside the bandage. “And – I was trained as a corpsman for duty in our last little ‘police action’ and then graduated two days before they declared the hostilities officially over, so I spent a couple years patching up returning marines and sailors and talked too many of them out of suicidal depressions -” he wrapped the bandage inside the protective paper it came in and found a rubber band and tightly wrapped that rubber band around the wrapped up bandage.

¨¨“What are you going to do with that?”

¨¨He shrugged, “Tomorrow I’ll hand it to my bored paraplelgic research scientist co-worker and give him something to play with for an hour of so and keep him out of our hair while I try to convince several patients in a small private rehabilitation hospital that they are worth the bother and shouldn’t give up.”

¨¨“So, what are you? Some kind of Psychotherapist?”

¨¨“More like some kind of psychiatric nurse. Couldn’t afford medical school.”

¨¨She nodded.

¨¨He took a drink of his coffee.

¨¨“So – what do you do – psychoanalyze everyone you work with?” she did look slightly nervous.

¨¨He shook his head and almost laughed, “I am nothing like qualified to do that – I’m more like a friendly cheerleader who explains to everybody that it’s not anyone’s quirks and idiosyncracies that drive anyone crazy, it’s the fear that everyone thinks there’s something wrong with them.” He nodded, “I keep hoping that maybe that little speech might do more good than several years of self torture through intense soul searching with a doctor that can not come across as being totally non-judgmental.” He looked thoughtful and worried, then grabbed a napkin and killed a second mosquito that looked like it was heading right at her.

¨¨He wiped the mosquito up with the napkin and handled it like he thought it might be carrying some kind of dangerous and highly contagious plague, brought out the alcohol again and opened another bandage, sighed, “Okay, maybe I’m a little too cautious – but I would much rather be safe than sorry.”


¨¨“After you killed those two bugs that night I thought I’d probably never see you again – Not that you weren’t extraordinarily interesting – I just thought that you were so focused on your career that you wouldn’t have any time for anything else. You did have that kind of intensity as you sterilized the table -” She laughed.

¨¨He grinned like he hoped she wasn’t laughing at him, then nodded, “Yeah, I guess I was pretty good at scaring away anyone who might have wanted to have anything to do with me in those days.”