It was another Sunday afternoon. As usual, I was in the train
station, reading. Everybody there is used to me by now, I think.
It's not a particularly outstanding environment for reading; the
furniture in the station consists solely of some S-shaped wooden
benches which are elegant, to be sure, but not at all comfortable to
sit on. No matter which way I sit, I invariably find that some part
of the bench is jutting into my back, or side, or leg. I generally
end up sitting on the edge of the bench, hunched over the book placed
on my knees. At this time I think I was making my way through
Dickens. It was a small paperback, which was unfortunate; it meant
that I needed to use my hands to hold it open, and bring it up close
to my face because the print was so small. I prefer to read
hardcovers if possible; that way I can simply rest the book on my knees,
which is much more relaxing. However, one advantage of holding a book
up instead of having it on my knees is that the line of sight from my
eyes to the book is more nearly horizontal, and thus my peripheral
vision takes in the surroundings, and the people inhabiting them,
rather than the floor. After all, that's the reason I'm there.
Even when my book is on my lap, I frequently pause to look up and observe the situation around me. There are generally three types of people at the train station, and the one thing they have in common is that they're all waiting. The first, and most frequent, are the people who are waiting for the train carrying their friends or loved ones. There are more of them than might be expected, because the trains are usually late, often by an hour or more. They are often reading books, like me, anxiously glancing up at the posted schedule from time to time to see if the arrival time of their friends' train has recently been brought up to date. One can almost see their ears wiggle in anticpation when the faint sounds of a train beginning to pull in are heard.
The second type consists of travellers who have arrived at the station early, bought their tickets, and are waiting for their trains to board passengers. They are often impatient and look at their watches frequently, but they too usually sit. The third group, being in a way the complement of the first group, consists of people who have gotten off the train and are waiting for friends to pick them up. They are the most nervous of the three; they rarely sit, and often don't even stand in one place, preferring instead to pace back and forth. Whenever I observe the sudden relaxation of their faces as they finally see the person for whom they have been looking in vain enter the station, I feel that my afternoon has not been wasted.
I don't fit into any of these categories; I don't wait for anything. In this respect I am perhaps more like the employees of the station, the ticket sellers and janitors, who simply arrive at an appointed time and leave a few hours later. I'm not an employee, of course; I simply sit on a bench, with a book in my lap, and look around. If I had something else to do on my Sundays, I might not be at the station; but as it is, it's not an unenjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
It was about half past two on this afternoon when I noticed people entering the station in anticipation of the 2:47 to New York. I put down my book---yes, it was Bleak House---and took a look around. A boy of ten years or so was being seen off by what I assumed to be his parents. True, they were a little old to be his parents, given his age; the woman was probably in her mid-forties, her hair already beginning to gray, and the man was at least a decade older than that. But they seemed slightly concerned at the boy's departure and comforted each other by holding hands, while relatives in the same situation would instead be showing affection for the child in the last few moments they had with him. Also, the boy looked eager to go on his journey; if he were returning from a visit with relatives, his expression would be one either of disappointment to be leaving so soon, or of relief at his impending return home. The mother put a hand on his shoulder and said something to him; he rolled his eyes and ruffled through one of his bags before producing a small object that mollified her. It was probably a toothbrush or comb; I've seen these scenes before.
Standing near them was an young man, college-aged, with a large khaki duffle bag at his feet. He hadn't shaved in a few days. His arms were crossed in front of his body, and he frequently shuffled his feet from side to side. He even glanced at his wrist once, although he wore no watch. From time to time he rubbed his face with both hands, or reached into his back pocket to make sure his ticket was still there. I wondered why he was so impatient; usually travellers of his age are in no particular rush to get on their way. Perhaps he was planning to transfer to another train at New York. I found my train schedule and picked it up, intending to look for trains which departed from New York shortly after his one arrived, so that I could infer which way he was ultimately headed.
At that moment, almost all the conversation in the station suddenly stopped for a few seconds. I wasn't particularly startled; in a medium-sized group of people, it is not uncommon for many conversations to coincidentally pause simultaneously. But through that silence came a deep male voice all the way from the other side of the station. ``That's just not true,'' the voice stated quite loudly, although the speaker did not seem to be raising his voice; apparently that was the volume at which he normally spoke. I quickly looked up. At the other end of the station stood a man and a woman whom I hadn't observed yet.
They were probably around thirty, although they were too far away for me to be sure. The man was about six feet tall, and the woman maybe four inches shorter than that, but he had a long dark ponytail so that his hair actually ended closer to the ground than hers. He had bags by his side, but she didn't; apparently he was leaving and she was seeing him off. I couldn't make out any more of their conversation (the other conversations had started up again), but evidently it was a lovers' quarrel. His arms were free and would occasionally gesticulate, while her hands remained on her waist. He was doing most of the talking, judging from the frequency with which they moved their heads. Occasionally she raised her head as if she were about to say something, but he interrupted her each time.
Now both of them were motionless, looking at each other, but I was too far away to see the expressions on their faces. An announcement came over the loudspeaker that the 2:47 train was now boarding. He picked up his bags, and started to say something to her, seemingly in a calmer voice than he had used previously. But suddenly she whirled on him and yelled something short, not more than two or three syllables, right in his face. He shrugged his shoulders, turned around, and headed out to the platform, not looking back.
The woman remained there, motionless, watching him walk away. She was facing away from me, so I couldn't tell if she was crying or not, but she was obviously full of emotion, full of feeling, although the feelings she had must have been anger and sadness. And suddenly I wanted to be her. I wanted to be standing in the middle of a train station by myself, surrounded by strangers; I wanted to feel a strong surge of emotion, whatever it was; I wanted to have that feeling of trying to resist crying. But instead I remained on my bench watching the scene detachedly, attempting to understand what that woman felt.
Suddenly she turned around and began to walk towards the exit, towards me. I continued to stare at her as she approached. Although her head was down, I could tell that she was pretty, if not beautiful; she had probably been one of the most attractive girls when she was in high school. Although she was obviously upset, her arms were relaxed as she walked with her hands in her pockets, and she walked smoothly, gracefully. Just before she passed me on her way out the door, she glanced up at me, tears in the corners of her eyes, and I quickly looked away. Somehow, I knew that she sympathized with my situation.