Story Behind The Letters

“The last train to …”
“…. Arrive in a few minutes …”
“… kindly wait…”
“…… Behind the yellow line …”
“Just a few more hours.”

Few more hours.

It has been too long since I’ve felt my heart pounding with anticipation. Against the cold air, I sweated thinking of the ending my adventure. It was 8.22 pm the last time I looked but it felt as if time hasn’t passed at all. A minute had never felt so long in my life.
The platform was in complete silence. The machines were turned off, stalls were closed down, and all that was left was the thought of how busy it was by day. As I was waiting for the train, I stared on the clock, hoping for to fasten the time as it passes. Sadly, all it did was increasing my awareness of time, thus making it slower. As longer hand slowly ticks its way around, continuing its endless cycle, I heard the sound of screeching metal coming from one end of the station.

Before I realized it, I was laying my back on the seat, looking toward the now empty platform. Looking towards the nothingness, towards oblivion.

As the train fasten up, the cabin slowly falls into a deep slumber. The darkness was inviting, but I kept my eyes open. Somehow, I didn’t want to miss a thing. One thing I’ve always find convenient about night trains were that most of the pairs (seats) only belonged to one passenger. 8 rows, and all 8 of them were occupied by one passenger, minding their own business, oblivious to the world.

Somehow, it felt ‘right’.

———-
9.00 pm
———-

“.. next stop..”
“…. kindly wait…”
“…. train to stop..”

It has been years since I saw her. ‘She’ was my classmate during the early stages of school. Although divided by high school, we were still friends since we live in the same neighbourhood. We’d always go home together, distant from one another, walking in silence. All we had was one of those occasional ‘hi’ and ‘hello’s but it was constant. Every day, even by a little bit, I got to know her. She had a sister, 2 years younger than her but could be easily mistaken as her if they were at the same height and coincidentally wearing the same dress. I never knew, but she actually has a soft spot for animals.

I was shy back then. I’d walk beside her, not talking a thing, just to be in the same air as her presence. It was not until the last 2 years of high school that we manage to convey a real conversation through a hilarious mishap. It was about cliché ending, a topic we both agreed that was too common. Looking back, there’s a reason why it’s called cliché, because it’s common.

The distance between us as we walk became closer for each moment we spent. Every conversation turned longer, and it felt like it could last forever. And even until now, I could not remember how did that walk ended. Whether we reached my house first or hers. I don’t know. In my memory, we never did, we walked on a perpetual journey.

However, by the end of our senior years, her family moved. She got an offer outside of town and her father got promoted. And I could still remember that day where I stood in front of her empty house, holding in the aching feeling in my heart.

After high school, my family too moved. And it wasn’t until my semester break that I found out that she sent a letter. The new owners of my old house called, said that there was a letter addressed specifically to me. It arrived 1 day after we moved. The letter was full of her telling about how her place is close to the campus, and she learned to rode a bike for the first time. And at the end of the letter there was this.

‘I hope everything is well there. Send my regards to my old classmates will you. Tell them I missed them. And that cat we raised. Don’t forget to feed her. 😡 ‘

But that was not it. At the back of the letter there was a little scribble.

‘Oh, and I missed you too’
‘ 😉 ‘

There it was, a little scribble of a face, winking at me. As if it was mocking my incompetence to actually say it back. To say that I missed her too. To tell the truth.
One night, after my shift ended, I traced the letter. I travelled for the first time, hundreds of miles away from home, going to an address that could have easily changed, chasing a long lost miracle. Because that is what she is to me. A miracle.

———–
9.45 pm
———–

“What would you like?”

The waiter asked.

I asked for a hot coffee as I was unable to stand the cold air and lullabies of the night. Night like these reminded of the time I travelled for the first time.

When I arrived at the address, I found out that she has left to her hostel 3 days ago. They were kind enough to let me stay the night and promised to help me get my way back home the next day. Despite her parents insisted for me to sleep inside a room, I chose to sleep on the couch. I couldn’t sleep at all. I was so close. I was sitting in a place where she sat 3 days ago, watching the TV she watched 3 days, reading a book with a clichéd ending she read just a few days ago. It felt like the universe was playing with me.

Before I left, her parents gave me her new address and wished me luck. I knew it was for something else, but I took it as an encouragement.
One day, I’ll find her.

————-
The letters
————-

‘Hello there,
It’s me. I hope you still remember me.
Sorry for being late by months, my family moved to a new neighbourhood. It’s not as nice as the old one but I got used to it after a few months.

Do you still remember the cat? It gave birth to 3 cute kittens before I left. The lady across the street took care of it. You know the one who always gave oranges dressed as pumpkins on Halloween. Well she changed it up a bit by putting a real pumpkin disguised as an orange dressed as a pumpkin. Not recommended.

Your old classmates also said hi, but that was months ago, all I know now is that the frizzy one got into a college down south while the freckled one (who turned out to be a goddess through puberty) became a part time model.
I met your parents awhile ago. Hence the letter. Heard you’re on your way to become a doctor. At first I thought it was quite cliché but it turns out to be a vet. Good luck with it.

Just a question. Do you still remember the bracelet I made for you in 4th grade? I need it back. Hahaha Just kidding.

Ps: By the end of this letter I wrote my new address.’

—————

‘Hey’
‘How could I ever forget you? You’re the one who jumped into the deep abyss in order to save an innocent life. How is everything? I heard that you were going to move but it seemed that the letter was a bit late. I really thought that you never wanted to write back. I’m glad you finally did.

I wished I could see the cats now. I missed them.

The lady should really start giving away candies. Those oranges were a bad idea. I knew about the ‘frizzy’ one since we’re writing each other every now and then. For the ‘former-freckled’ one, I saw her on an article once in a magazine.

It was an offer on the medical field but I felt being a doctor was too cliché, so I opted for veterinary.
Ps: I’m wearing it right now.’

————
11.15 pm
————

It has been hours and most of the passenger has already fallen asleep. On the edge of my vision, I saw a light flashes out of a seat. All I could see was a silhouette but it seemed like there’s another person who can’t fall asleep.

We kept on writing back and forth after that. But the letters slowly receded as time passed. She went on her practical and I was on my finals. We were too busy to write each other letters. But the thoughts of her never once left my mind.

“I’ll write her tomorrow”

That was all I could think of. But sadly, ‘tomorrow’ never came. I never did write the letter.

————–
The stories
————–

It was 4th grade. As a kid, I never knew what love is. Even now, I have no idea what love is. But for some weird reason, I’ve always wanted to sit beside her. At that time and age, she was easily the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. My shy demeanour was always stopping me from starting a conversion but on this day, I hid a self-woven bracelet under her table. She may have seen me doing it but I was sure my ninja mode was on. It wasn’t actually self-woven, it was a finished product but the nice lady allowed me to make additional customizations to it.

Don’t judge me. I was never romantic.

Surprisingly, she wore it. But it wasn’t until in high school that I told her that it was me. All she did was giggled, hit me on the back and said thanks. It was then that our little journey home became more talkative.

————-

It was during our second year of high school when it rained heavily across the suburbs. The sky darkened in a flash and before anyone was ready, the heavens rains down upon us. Despite the rain, we still chose to walk home. It wasn’t romantic as it was portrayed in stories as our umbrella was huge so there was adequate space for the both of us. It’s mostly awkward. And it was then we heard a faint calling under the drain.
We searched for the source for awhile before we found a cat under on the pipe seeking refuge from the rain. Unfortunately, the drain was clogged up and water started to rise. We know it would be terrible for the cat if the rushing water poured into the pipe.

Suddenly, I found myself jumping into unknown depths of the drain. And all I could feel was the rush of adrenaline as I grabbed the cat and handed it over to her. I didn’t realize it for awhile but during my landing, I seemed to hit a sharp object and cut the palm of my foot. It was bleeding all the way home but thinking back, it was worth it.

————-

Months had passed since I last send her a letter. I visited her parents once to ask how she was doing. It seemed she has gone overseas few days before after a company offered her a job involved in helping near extinct wildlife around the world. Typical of her. She’d never let go of an opportunity for such adventures.

It was then I realized how stupid I am for taking time for granted. All these time I had the opportunity to actually tell the truth. To tell her that I love her. But I was always shy. Always afraid of the answer. And always at the wrong time.

I regretted every chance I used to have.
As much as I wanted to cry a river full of regret. I knew it was too late. Life moves on. No matter how much I tried, time have no mercy.

Years passed and it seemed as if I was ready to move on. I landed on a good job on a promising company and my life was in a way, organized. I wanted to forget the past, hoping to create something new for myself. Something I could remember in the future.

‘ .. beep.. ‘
‘There’s a conference tomorrow’
‘Do your best and you might land yourself a promotion’

The message was from one of my older colleagues. It occurred to me that I need to find a way to apologize after this for the reason I’m on this seemingly endless train was to due to a simple phone call from a past I wished I could have completely forgotten.

“Hello..”
“.. Do you still remember me?”

As the memories flashes through my eyes, tears running down my cheek. I hung up. The throbbing feeling returns, the aching came back, and the truth resurface. Once again, I found myself in the same situation. For some cruel reason, the universe put me on the right time at the right place for this one phone call. For this one last chance.

To what exactly.

I thought to myself.
And that was the reason I came. The reason I left my job, my responsibility, and my dreams was to find why the universe had played such games on me.

The central was the centre stations for all ongoing and oncoming trains, hence the name. As big as it was, it was still empty by the time I reached it. Lights were dimming, sounds fading and my vision is getting heavy by the minute.

“She’s visiting since there’s a special occasion”
“She’ll be staying there for 5 days, you should really meet her”
“She said she has something important to tell…”

The words spoken by my mother echoed in my head, as my vision blurred. The cab took me to a nearby hotel and as soon as I was inside, my body completely fails me as I fall onto the bed, towards my inevitable slumber.

I found myself walking again but this time alone towards this uncertain destiny the universe has set up for me. I followed the address but it was soon rendered useless as from miles away I could see the white tents and people in well fitted gowns and suits. From the view, my heart clutches tight, nearly suffocating me. My mind soon over think of the possibilities of what she wanted to tell me. Out of all the probability, my mind was stuck on one and it was the worst. The balloons, the music, the aisle, my mind knew what was going on but my heart resisted. It defects from the obvious fact that lies before my eyes. It was trying to find hope in a hopeless place.

“… May I know your name sir? ”

The reception asked. This time I wasn’t shy, instead I was afraid. Fear caught up to me. The weather was cool but my hands were sweating, my chest was throbbing and I was looking around for something. Something I lost.

From a distance, I saw a woman, dressed in a white gown embroidered with white and silver thread , which it in itself blows the other in comparison. It was a perfect dress for a bride. And sadly, I knew the face too well. Too well to hide the the feeling ripping out of my chest. In the sea of people I saw none but her.

“.. It’s okay. I’m at the wrong place”
I replied. I shouldn’t be sad. If she’s happy, I should be too. But as much I wanted to, I also wanted to be the one that make her so.
Maybe the universe never wanted to give me a chance; maybe it just wanted to give me closure.

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The story behind the picture.

“We’ll soon arrive in station……”
“…. in 30 minutes..”
“ …. please take care of your baggage…” “…… and have a nice day..”

I wonder when they’ll fix those blurry speakers.

It has been hours since I sat on this seemingly endless journey. I wondered where will find myself. But soon I realized, why should I? I took this train because of the realization that it would take me toward a specific location. It was long before I noticed how the short hand had already landed on 11 pm. The blankets of which I had laid upon me were rendered useless as I clutches on more clothes to keep myself warm against the cold air.

I quickly changed my clothes, putting another layer of t-shirt before covering it with my sweater. Changing clothes was never the problem with night trains considering that barely half of the seats were occupied and most of them were asleep. The cabin’s lights were off but the luminescences of the outside were enough to give me some sort of visibility. I’d always take the mirror’s seat every time I took the train. The most plausible explanation for it is the scenery but it was overruled due to the fact that I always travel at night. Maybe that’s why, because of the night.

Going at 124 kilometres an hour, the only light source I have was the dashes of light as the train passes by. Occasionally. Sometimes there would only be darkness. A perfect reflection of what my heart feels like.

“One hour left…”
Before my big day. Supposedly. And yet, it’s also the reason why I left. A little earlier, I would have been searched, a little of longer, I would have gone insane. The feeling that my heart can no longer hold, screamed out, distorting my perception of reality. Never had I thought that such emotion could cause pain of such magnitude.

I’d slide my phone, just to see if there’s any notification worth seeing. As much as I want to let go, something inside of me kept on wishing. Maybe, just maybe it’ll change. The brightness of the screen blinded my eyes, flashing the situation with white light and even then, I was still alone. Whether it was bright as day, or dark as night, I was always alone. Thousands of miles away from home, on a foreign land, hoping to find an escape. But it haunted my for every corner I turned into. And now I found myself on the road again. Hoping to find serenity in a foreign land.

“..Next station….”
“…. Please be careful when the …”
“…. opens ….”

“I wonder when they’ll fix those blurry speakers.”
A stranger’s voice pierced the silence. I turned around to see a rather blurry silhouette standing in front of me.

“Hey, could I sit next to you till the next station?”

I nodded. It was a girl. From a single glance, she seemed like 20 or older with her long, striking, black, hair as dark the night was dangling to her back. She sat next to me and covered herself in a blanket in such ways that it resembles me earlier. She thanked me for the seat and explained the purpose of her action to such a stranger. It seems that sitting beside me puts her in a more secure situation as she put it ‘it’s easier to sit beside a stranger you’re brave against’ than to sit alone.

“Plus, you seemed like a nice guy”

The silence of night lulled the other passengers into a deep sleep. But I soon myself awakened by the loneliness. Both of us were. She would ask a question, trying to convey a conversation but I was too lazy to answer them longer than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. It doesn’t take much for her to stop asking, and once again, surrounding the cabin with silence. Every now and then I would glance over, catching a look of what she’s up to. As the train passes by an empty station, all I could saw was nothing but the glimmer in her eyes as it reflects the lights outside.

“Lights..” She whispered.

“…the visible reminder of invisible lights..”
I continued.

“It’s beautiful”

“What is?”

“The scenery..”

“There’s nothing to see at night”
I replied as I yawn over the view.

“There’s more to just ‘the view’”

Maybe she’s right. Maybe that’s why I always took the night train. Because there’s more to it than just the view. Sometimes, the reason we chose to avoid the light is not because we hate it, we just misses the night. It wasn’t long before we continuously talk over random subjects. There’s 30 minutes left before my final stop, our final stop. And yet, it felt like the longest 30 minutes of my life. She was, in a way, the opposite of me. She travels from one place to another to discover new things and keep those moments eternally in the form of a photograph. She would bring numerous empty albums to be filled by the end of her journey. In each picture lies a story worth a thousand letters. A memento of the past to her future self. She said it served ‘as a reminder of who I was, to who I will be’.

“Who are you visiting?” I asked. The question has been hanging around my mind. I was either curious, or just wanted the conversation to continue.

She took awhile to answer.

“My boyfriend…”
“… What about you?..”

“Umm.. My girlfriend”
I hesitated.

“Let’s hope they’re not jealous then.”
“..haha..”
She replied as she laughed slowly. The talk soon turned into silence. And I’ve been quiet for too long to suddenly start a conversation. My mind once again asked me to converse in words, but all I could let out was the cold breath as it vaporizes on the window. The scenery soon turns brighter, as we slowly reach our final stop, the central.

And lights were all it was. The station was empty of passengers except of the ones on board. All I could hear was the sound of vending machines serving nonexistent customer, looping the same message over and over again. The only living flesh I could see was the workers of the public transportation service. Even they had announced that it’ll be their last trip.
The crowd soon dispersed, going to their own direction. It didn’t take long before all that was left was her and me.

“Send my regards to your girlfriend…”
She smiled.

“Tell your guy I said ‘hi’”
I replied. We both walk equally the same distance towards the gate. As much I wanted to ask, I couldn’t.

“This is goodbye then….”
“… My friend is here”
She said as she walked forward, leaving me behind.

“..Bye.”
I replied. We both went our own ways. Dispersing the final group of individuals. Because that is what we were from the beginning, a group of individuals.

“… Hey…”
The voice shouted. It was her again. She grabbed her camera and snaps a picture of me. When the film came out, she quickly handed it over to me. And as she left and turns for one last time.

“Hey, about the boyfriend….”
“.. I lied”
“I’ve been through a bad breakup.. and..”
“…and what I wanted to say is thank you..”
“ .. for the company”
“ hahaha”
She smiled. and I ,too, found myself smiling amidst the empty building.

“Me too”
I replied.

“Hope to see you again in another train”
She smiled as she waved me goodbye. She soon entered her friend’s car and left.

And that was the end of it. She will always be ‘that girl embedded by the night’, and I will always be ‘the missing picture in her album’.