By Joson Ng
It was past midnight. I was on the last train heading east. The train was almost empty. There was an old man sitting opposite me. He was fast asleep with his lips slightly parted. He was snoring. I could tell that he had been drinking as he was giving off that familiar smell of alcohol. My grandfather used to smell like that too. Not surprisingly, alcohol eventually killed him. There were also two teenagers sitting on the floor near the exit. They looked like miniature versions of Michael Jackson complete with black leather jackets, tight jeans and gloves. The train was cruising along lazily and I fell asleep after a while.
I woke up when the train pulled up at Paya Lebar station. Just as the train was coming to a full stop, the old man woke up, sprung from his seat and promptly exited the train as the door opened. I surveyed the surrounding and found myself alone in the carriage. The teenagers were gone as well. They must have alighted in the previous stop. Just as the door was closing, a young lady walked in. She was casually dressed and looked to be in her early twenties. She was wearing a demin jacket which looked expensive and new. Beneath that was a white blouse which paled in comparison. She had brown shoulder length hair which seemed to bounce whenever she took a step. Her heels clicked as she made her way to the seat previously occupied by the old man. She slid across to the seat next it as soon as she made contact obviously feeling the warmth left by the previous commuter. Since she was sitting opposite me, I decided to study her. Her nails were painted pink and there seemed to be some sort of design but I could not make out what it was. She was holding a dainty black hand bag which gave her a touch of class. There was no sign of make up but she looked radiant none the less. I remember thinking to myself, "what a pretty girl." She seemed to be the kind of girl who had many admirers.
I was so busy checking her out that I did not realized we had came to a stop at Eunos station. A young Caucasian man entered the train. He was carrying a large haversack and it was rather clear that he was heading for the airport which is at the end of the line. He was wearing a tight red T-shirt which had seen better days and khaki cargo pants. He sat opposite me on the same row as the girl. He put his haversack down, took off his New York Yankees baseball cap and stretched out, obviously tired from carrying the heavy load. He looked across at the girl and smiled, the girl, like all pretty girls, seemed to know when someone is checking her out, returned a glance and gave him a half smile. That seemed to be all the encouragement the man needed and without warning, he slid across the green plastic seats and sat next to the girl.
"Have you ever wondered what those flaps on the wings of plane do?" He ventured.
"What?" the girl turned her head towards him slightly and asked in an apprehensive tone.
"I travel a lot and I think about these things when I am on a plane." He looked straight into her eyes and continued, "Otherwise I'll be bored to death." He followed that up with a boyish grin which did the trick. The girl responded with a wide smile. Her lips seemed to glow as she smiled. Her teeth were slightly crooked but she had a beautiful smile.
"So where are you from ah?" She sounded happy from the sudden, unsolicited attention.
"Australia, I have been traveling around the world for a year now and Singapore is my last stop. I am actually on my way to the airport to catch a plane home."
"Wow, it's so cool. I wish I could do it too but I'm stuck in school." The girl's speech seemed to have taken a pseudo accent out of no where.
"You will get your chance next time. It took me a year before I finally saved up enough money to make the trip."
"Why did you do it?" she adjusted her body to face him, giving him full attention now.
"Well, life is just too short to be stuck doing something you hate right? I was in a dead end job and for a while, I was really depressed. One fine day I came up with an idea to travel the world and all of the sudden, work became more tolerable as I had a target."
He paused for a while before continuing, "I wanted to see the world, experience new things, taste exotic food and meet pretty girls. So here I am talking to a pretty girl right at the tail end of my travel. " He was really turning it on now. He was probably five to six years older than the girl but his boyish good looks, brown eyes and messy hair was definitely winning her over.
"Any interesting tales you wanna share with me?" her chirpy voice cracked through the silent carriage.
"I was mugged in Thailand." He said nonchalantly.
"Wow cool! Ah no I mean oh my god! Sorry." She giggled and twirled her hair with her small manicured fingers.
"I lost most of my money and I had to work as a waiter for two months before I could afford to get out of the country. It was the toughest part of my trip and I was ready to call it a day and ask for help from my parents back home. I decided against it eventually. At the end of the day I learned something valuable. When you are out there, you are all alone and no one can come to your rescue. You just have to get on with it and hopefully you will turn the corner." He stopped to draw breath before going on.
"Anyway I emerged stronger and I am now better equipped to handle what ever comes. I can go back and start my life again."
"You are all grown up now." The girl teased.
They laughed and by now they were looking straight into each other's eyes. It was as if they were old friends.
Their moment was abruptly ended when the train pulled into Tanah Merah station.
"Tanah Merah. This is my stop." He said in his exotic accent.
"Do look me up if you ever come to Australia ya?" He hastily tore out a page from his note book and scribbled something onto it.
"You know, I will be going there for a student exchange program next term."
"Oh that's brilliant! In that case we should really meet up. I wish I met you earlier so we have more time to talk and hang out."
"Yeah, me too."
"We will meet again right?" he said extending his hand.
"You bet." She said with a tinge of sadness and shook his hand.
They said their goodbyes and the man exited the train just as the door was about to close. I could see from the reflection that he stood and waved goodbye to the girl as the train pulled away.
The girl looked at the paper and smiled. She put it into her bag and took out her mobile phone. She phoned her friend and told her friend what had happened. She looked and sounded genuinely happy. She was so engrossed in her conversation that she realized she was at her stop only when the train door was about to close. She quickly ended her conversation and hurried towards the door. Just when she was putting away her phone into her bag, the paper fell out of her bag without her noticing it. It seemed to float in the air for a long time and when it finally landed on the floor; its owner was already out of the train. I turned around just in time to see her entering the elevator. I looked at the lonely paper on the floor and wondered what it could have been for them.QLRS Vol. 7 No. 2 Apr 2008