By Armel Dagorn.
I stood in the aisle a little confused, glancing at my ticket then at the numbers above the seats. A man looked up, and he smiled shyly when our eyes met. One of the seat numbers above him matched my ticket.
When I sat down, he smiled again and nodded. For a few minutes we were silent. He had one of these carrier bags on his lap, a strong, practical thing full of mysteries—all I could see was that his loot, whatever it was, was sub-divided into plastic bags. A plastic bag full of plastic bags. There must have been something precious in it, fragile at least, or he’d have left it on the floor, or on the overhead rack.
He lifted his arm and bared his watch in a way that I thought theatrical, and let out a little sigh.
‘Five minutes late, now.’
I hummed in answer. I knew, of course. I’d rushed, a simmering panic threatening to overtake me, only to get on the train and find it in no hurry.
A few more minutes passed, and I sensed him—my eyes were closed—fidgeting in the seat next to me.
‘I’m visiting my family for the new year,’ he said finally.
I’d had no intention of engaging in conversation, but I opened my eyes all the same and turned to him, eyebrow raised into a question. Wasn’t he a good few weeks late?
He gave a wide smile. ‘Where I am from we look to the moon to count our years.’ When I didn’t react he continued. ‘For the new year, everything stops—the celebrations last a whole week, and people travel the breadth of the country to be with their families, to present them with their wishes. We gift each other lucky coins, pressing them into each other’s palms, and we all act like kings, hoping the new year will crown us. We greet our elders where they’ve waited all year for us, sitting black and white on the shelf, and at first they make us pay our distance, their deep cold frowns as unmoveable as if they’d been set in concrete. But the mood—the mood then is of full, incorruptible glee, and sometimes it seems like the rosy peach flowers the houses are filled with are the divine, physical manifestation of this, a bloom fertilised by the national bliss.’
He turned to me then, and saw me staring at him, immersed despite myself in his story. He blushed and looked down at the bag on his lap.
‘I… I have never been there,’ he said. ‘Well, my parents brought me here when I was four. I never went back. This is just what they’ve told me.’ He turned to look out the window, at the platform, the passengers bound elsewhere, strutting to other trains. I thought about it, this lore passed on by his parents to him, then from him to me.
I nodded to myself, and closed my eyes again when it was clear he wouldn’t resume his story. Ten minutes or so must have passed. At some stage I felt his eyes on me, and I turned to him and saw he was staring at my jaw. I realised I had been wiggling it around.
It was my turn to blush, then. He smiled kindly.
‘Do you ever have these moments,’ I said, ‘when your head is too small for the world, and you feel your heart beat softly, like some velvety boxing glove, against the back of your teeth, and the world, instead of sneaking in through your pupils all shrunk up so you can deal with it, it stays out, big and stubborn, and your mind has to come out then and expand like a mad invisible balloon, to try and encompass it all, and then you are everything, your body and the seat and the ceiling and the bags and every single thing and every single person around and it’s too much? And how could you not be about to burst then?’
He nodded slightly, his hands worrying his bag. The PA crackled, and a voice announced that due to an incident on the tracks our train wouldn’t depart. I got up and rushed out of the train, into the world, without a glance back.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Armel Dagorn is now back in his native France after living in Ireland for seven years. His writing has appeared in magazines such as Tin House online, The Stinging Fly, Southword and Unthology. His short story collection Eternal Dreamers of Greener Grass will be published in early 2018 by The Penny Dreadful Press. Find him at armeldagorn.wordpress.com
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 14th, 2017.