The man on the train

 Rain drops plopped onto my clothes by the time I got onto the train. Annoyed, I scraped my hair out of my face with my fingers – the wind kept blowing it forward. I walked over to my usual spot at the centre of the train and sank down on a seat. I took a moment to look around me. Apart from an elderly couple a few rows away from me, there was no one on the train. Outside, the sky was one grey sheet of clouds.

 There were still a few minutes before we left, so I rummaged around inside my bag for something to read. Gosh, I was tired. It annoyed me so much, when music students didn’t practice the songs I gave them or even worse, didn’t bring their instruments with them. How the hell did they think they were going to get through a lesson without their instruments? I only had a certain number of spare guitars.

 I had just busied myself with another chapter of Gloria O’ Brien’s History of the Future, when the last passenger got onto the train. I lifted my eyes the slightest bit to see who it was. And froze.

 It was a man in a paint-splattered overall, holding a small suit case in his hand. It was hard to tell from a distance, but his eyes were dark and his face framed with the shadow of a beard. I couldn’t see his hair since it was hidden underneath a stained yellow cap, but I guessed that it was brown.

 The face, though…there was something about his face which looked incredibly familiar, even though it was hard for me to imagine that he really was the person it reminded me of. I didn’t get to take a proper look at him, as he went to sit at the back and I didn’t want to turn around in my seat like an idiot. I pretended to stare out of the window as the train got into motion, but risked a quick glance backwards after a while.

 He was looking straight at me. During the second our gazes met before I jerked my head back in embarrassment, I thought I saw an emotion passing through his eyes. Was it recognition?

 I didn’t get the chance to look at him again since the train then went through a tunnel and we were plunged into darkness. That moment of visual stillness brought back a memory.

 It’s an afternoon in ’96 and I’ve just finished eating my lunch after getting back from school. We’ve done this so many times before, that Jeff is already waiting for me at our neighbours’ gate.

 “Hey,” I greet him when I’m still a few feet away. “So did you go to the record store earlier?”

 He nods. “Yes. I asked the staff to keep this one for me when I saw it the other day, and here it is.” He waves a cassette in the air and I smile.

 “Awesome.”

 He opens the gate for me and I go inside. As usual, we make our way to his parents’ garage, where we can listen to our music without bothering anyone. I can feel the excitement bubbling through my veins when we go to the tiny space in the corner, where the radio stands. It’s a bulky old system which doesn’t usually pick up more than a fuzzy signal, but it’s got a cassette player and that is all that matters.

 While Jeff inserts the cassette, I sit down on a large paint can and study the little plastic case in which the cassette was. It is the latest release from the band Stratovarius and both of us are looking forward to hearing it.

 Jeff sits down beside me on an overturned wooden crate and we listen intently as the first notes of Episode drift through the speakers. The instrumentals are upbeat, the vocals are epic and I can’t help the smile that stretches over my face.

 “This is going to be good,” I murmur. “Can I come over tomorrow afternoon to tape it?”

 Jeff holds up his hand and turns down the volume a bit. “Sorry, what did you say?”

 “Can I come over tomorrow to tape this? I don’t have enough money to buy the official cassette for myself.”

 His smile is genuine. “Of course.”

 We’re both quiet as we continue listening. I’m silently jealous of Jeff. His grandparents give him more than enough pocket money to spend on records while I…I’m usually too broke to afford them. Okay, so Jeff is only a year older than me – he’s thirteen – but it still seems a little unfair that he always appears to be having life easier than me. Can that possibly change one day?

 The memory faded as soon as we were out of the tunnel and I could once again see everything around me. I shook my head as if it would help me clear my thoughts. Surely, the man on the train couldn’t be the same person?

 But if he was…then I couldn’t just sit here and ignore him.

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/

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