Her best friend sat limply to her left on a late night subway train snaking its way under the hushed city. It was midnight’s next hour, and the two had been en route back to the little apartment they shared in Lower East Side for the past two hours. Their journey felt awfully long, especially due to the fatigue from dancing around all day at a festival and the illness that hung over the limp one. Her friend had been very outwardly vocal about her discomfort and unforgivingly allowed her irritability to surface.
It’s my day, she thought, and I have to spend it taking care of her, and for such little gratitude!
No, it’s alright, really, she just needs to get home and rest. She’s sick, don’t be selfish.
She stared straight through the tarnished window opposite of her bench, thinking. As the train followed its line south, the empty car began to populate with an assortment of folks, all out at that particular time of night for completely different reasons. She felt weak, almost shy. In this large city, no one knew the meaning of this day, except for a handful of friends who were nowhere to be found. She wondered if her dear friend she had ran into earlier that night remembered it was her birthday. Probably not, seeing that they have been disconnected for a while: he has been residing in this city for the past five years for university and work, while she had been all the way across the country. He had once meant the world to her, but time, space, and adolescent emotions inevitably changed that truth.
Although, she smiled softly, I will always love him, the way I love this limp thing next to me.
Alas, she was away from her home, away from her family and friends. These relationships that she nurtured over the past 22 years were all left behind. She had escaped to this city to find herself all while running away from herself. Her life back home was comfortable, but she had been unhappy with herself: the person she had became was not the person she had wanted to be four years ago. And she had dwelled on this thought a lot, unfairly projected her confusion and frustration on her relationships with others, and cried uncontrollably about it to her closest friends. She had felt as though she would implode if she stayed. So she fled, but not without intention.
An older man stepped onto the train halfway home, and began to blow into the yellowed tube on his melodica, disturbing the communal silence that contrasted the loud hiss of metal snake gliding on the tracks. For a moment, while lost in her thoughts, the twitter of the instrument placed her in Europe. She was overcome by the beautiful yet simple melody and felt a feeling of nostalgia. Funny, she had only been to Europe once — Florence, to be specific, five years back. There were no recollections of street music, but she was unable to shake the association. She looked up at the man, who was entranced solely by his own desire to play, and smiled to herself as she dreamt of a far away land that felt so much like a home.
How nice it would be to spend my birthday there.
The man continued to play, changing songs seamlessly. A thin lady entered the car and curtly asked the limp companion to move aside on the long bench. She watched her friend move an inch closer with a grunt, and switch her crossed legs with a sigh. Suddenly, the familiar tune of “happy birthday” cheerfully made its way into the man’s performance. Her best friend, whose face was resting in her hand, glanced up at her with a tired smile. In that moment, she was tickled by excitement. It felt like they shared a secret because no one else except the two knew of the coincidence. But it also felt like the world was bidding her a happy birthday, in a form of a man and his lousy instrument. She returned the smile.
Tired, she turned her head forward again to stare out the dirty window, and the train sped on, carrying its passengers into the night.