Stranger Stories

Matthew Pennell
May 4, 2017 · 3 min read

What are you thinking about, tram driver? What thoughts fill your mind as you trace the same route, over and over, corner after corner, there and back again ad infinitum until the working day is over and you can go home, only to return to pick up the same track tomorrow?

What do you see?

Surely you must see the same people every day, locked into their own routine just as you remain trapped in yours; walking or standing or waiting, weighted down by overburdened bags or grasping tight to the hand of a small child, pushing a bicycle with one foot on the pedal or weaving through the crowd, eyes fixed on the face of a phone. Single people, alonely walking; couples holding hands, fingers entwined in an arrangement understood solely by their owners; families occupying the full width of the footpath, stressfully ignorant of those wishing to sidestep their tortoise-like progress.

I think, if I were you, I would spend my day writing their stories.

There, that girl — young, fifteen maybe, every morning on a purple bicycle, crossing the tracks with barely a glance at the advancing tram. Tight, high-waisted jeans beneath a dark sweatshirt bearing the name of a sports team. Thick socks, bunched below her skinny knees. And, gripped tight across the handlebars, swaddled in tape, an ancient wooden hockey stick. (At home, she is the middle child of three, all girls, and like all middle children she is ignored, overlooked, neither the first to achieve nor the baby of the family. She plays hockey because it is expected; elder sister played before, now captains her university team. That is expected too, although the girl on the bicycle doesn’t even think she wants to go to university, is afraid of what will happen in two years when neither her exam results nor her ambitions will align with those of her parents. Mostly she keeps going to hockey practice because it’s the only time she can be alone for a little while, to find the space to worry about the rest of her life.)

Outside the bakery beside the stop where three tram lines meet, a young man stands, head nodding slowly to some unheard rhythm. He gets on, takes a seat, but his eyes are unfocused, as if he reads from some invisible text. (While all of his friends dream of becoming rap stars, he wants to be a comedian. He rehearses jokes in his head, polishing each line, trimming, finessing, but afraid to write anything down lest anyone laughs at him for the wrong reasons. He is sure he has forgotten some great one-liners, if he had written everything down he would have enough material for a set by now, but … the risk is too great. He smiles as a new gag rises, unbidden, a gift from his subconscious, and wonders if he has space to store it in his memory before it too is lost within his secret history.)

Near the terminus, an older lady impatiently waves the tram onward, as if it were stopping solely for her. Between her legs sits a tired-looking Yorkshire Terrier, the ends of his fur dirty and matted. He yawns before lying down across her feet. (Inside her leather gloves, her fingers are spattered and streaked with paint. She’s been up all night, working on her latest piece, a monumental canvas taking up fully half of the apartment; now, dog-tired, but with a deep need to recharge her creative batteries, she has gathered up the little terrier, himself liberally spotted with errant paint flecks, and headed out to watch and listen to the walking, working, living people of her city. Despite the insistent tiredness that drys her eyes a zombie red, she drinks it all in, energised and inspired and ready to get back to her brushes.)

End of the line. Stop. Rotate. Return.

Stories without end.

Matthew Pennell

Written by

Senior designer for Booking.com. Designer, developer, writer, reader, feminist, atheist, optimist. I believe there is goo in everyone.

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