Unexpected Encounters

A Short Story

New York City, the center of art, culture and a beacon of capitalism. This is a city built on the law of supply and demand while simultaneously devouring its populace; and then there’s me, an average Joe idly watching people go about their daily lives. A simple activity I take part in every so often to fill an otherwise boring afternoon.

It’s nearly ten in the morning — might as well head home, there’s nothing else to do today. I’m growing more and more tired of this city, but there’s not much I can do to change that… The Big Apple is no longer the fresh and vibrant city I once imagined it as.

Forty-Second Street, my starting point this afternoon. Taking care not to slip on the steps, the gloomy autumn day disappears behind me as I descend into the labyrinthine passageways of the New York Subway system. There are always far too many people down here, all clamoring about to the tune of turnstiles and the rhythm of the trains below. Slowly like a lamb to the slaughter, I make it down to the platform.

I almost didn’t see her, but there she was. Standing before me, across the platform, stood one of my former companions. She looks exactly as I remember her almost a year ago. Her unmistakable short red hair and cabbie hat paired with a leather jacket was her signature look. I always thought the jacket was a fitting symbol of her life experiences as it was well worn and cracking at the seams.

“Laci” I croaked.

She turns to face me, with her hazel eyes locking on as I approach.

“David?” That Slavic accent is just as strong as I remember.

“What are you doing here?” I ask as though taking the subway was in some way unusual for the average New Yorker.

“I’m in town with my fiancé and his family. We’re getting married this November.”

“Oh . . . Well congratulations.” Yes, congratulations to the fool.

“I would have invited you to the wedding if I knew you were here. When your letters stopped I assumed you had moved away or something.”

She’s trying to spare me some embarrassment. I only stopped writing because her answers grew dull. She was also a horrible writer, which made the letters even more tiresome to read.

“Ugh, no I’ve been busy working. You know how life is here.”

It’s only been a few seconds, but this conversation needs to end; I hate small talk. Desperate for an escape, I pretend to remember something.

“Oh shit! I have to pick up some drafts from my editor before six.”

“Oh, then by all means go, I don’t want to keep you.”

The irony of that statement — I bet she meant that to be underhanded. She wasn’t very articulate, but she always had a habit of seeding her sentences with double meanings.

After a wave quick good-bye I’m off and hastily ascending the stairs to the other platform. God, what an embarrassing encounter. I would have liked to have gone on believing that she was in the same rut when I last saw her. But now, I’m stuck knowing she’s engaged and miles ahead of me in “the game of life”. It may not be necessary, but I’m going to take the longer route home just to be sure I don’t cross paths with her again.

Boarding the A train, I pick out my usual “subway position” that’s close to the door, yet far away so I’m not an obstruction. This position is also well away from the seats so that my exposure to the usual subway folk is minimal. It’s perfect because it limits my interaction with people. Speaking of, this entire cabin is lined with ads for some sort of new matchmaking service.

I’ve wasted too much time pursuing women and I’d certainly never pay for it as that seems a little too close to prostitution. Franky, I think relationships are quite simply a wasted exercise. I’ve never cared much for the chase, or sex for that matter. Realistically the only reason I can think of for such activities is to raise children. Plus there’s the seemingly unavoidable romanticism that’s required, an activity as foreign to me as politics in Zazzau.

The sound of screaming train brakes reels me back to the present as the train rolls to a stop in the station. I glance up to the door and only to be petrified by the sight before me. The doors of the subway car are all that separate us; I glance away trying to hide the obvious blush and dilated pupils I no doubt have.

Her outfit is very peculiar. A long pink sweater coupled with a tribal necklace that would look right at home in the pages of National Geographic. Followed by a pair of faded cigarette jeans and a pair of well-aged Converse All Stars. Without a doubt it’s an odd ensemble… yet a strangely alluring one.

She boards and without a single glance towards the other many seating options onboard, she stands next to me, dammit.

The buzzer sounds as the doors hiss and glide to a close. Just as we begin to journey down the tunnel, she leans in a little closer to me. Her eyes fixated on the map to the left of the door. Delicately she moves the dangling strands of short blonde hair away from her face to get a better view of the map and in doing so reveals more of her rosy complexion. I instinctively look down at my shoes and the welcoming comfort of the speckled gray floor.

She sneezes.

“Bless you.” I remark reflexively.

“Thank you.” She says softly.

“This is the A train right?” How does she not know this is the A; it’s literally displayed on the side of the train.

“Yeah you’re on the A, where are you going?”

“North two stops, there’s this bistro I’ve been meaning to check out.”

“Oh? What’s it called?”

“‘Marks’ or ‘Alfred’s’ or something like that. It’s just a little deli, but I’m told the selection is to die for.”

“Huh, I’ll have to check it out.”

I’m usually never this conversational, actually the opposite, but something about her is familiar, almost like I’m standing next to an old friend. There’s almost a magnetic pull drawing me in, I wonder if she feels it as well.

More screaming brakes and the bright station lights signal the arrival at another station. The garbled noise of the conductor announces our destination as doors hiss open.

“Would you like to join me?” Her words seem rushed.

“Huh? To the bistro?”

“Yeah, you seem normal enough and I obviously don’t know the city that well. Besides, it’s close to the station so you can escape pretty easily if I’m boring.” Playful, but I genuinely find this option worthwhile.

“Uhm . . . OK. I mean if I’m not intruding.”

“Not at all! Now come on, let’s go!”

As we cross the threshold of the train and walk down the platform towards the stairs I can feel my spirits rise; perhaps this city isn’t so bad afterall.

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