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Flash Fiction: Train Dispatch from Everywhen
You don't expect someone charging at you from the top when you're on an escalator going up. If anything, you watch your back to see if anyone needs to pass you. On that day I was watching neither. As I'm wont to do, I was looking at my feet, willing the escalator to take forever and bring me somewhere new. I didn't care. I forget the details now, but someone jumped at me. We tumbled down. Thus begins the story of how I got stuck in a train.
It was at the Shaw Blvd station. To exit the station, one has to first leave the platform via elevator, stairs, or escalator. I usually take the stairs. I think back to this mistake and decide that had I taken the stairs that day, I would've had a better chance to escape. As it was, when we tumbled down and I found myself at the platform again, this person pushed me inside a waiting train. It all happened fast. We often say this: It all happened fast. But this was the first time I believed how fast things can happen.
It must've been just a few seconds of disorientation, when I came to I saw that it was snowing inside. The first thing I heard was wind. I swung my head. All white. Frigid. The tip of my shoes had ice. Then, that beeping sound just before the doors closed. Too late. I ran to the nearest door. Banged. I saw someone's back. They were in a black hoody. I shouted for help. The person raised their hand and waved goodbye. Just as they were turning their head, the lights at the platform went dead. And the train chugged along.
It's empty. The train is empty. I'm 95% sure this is a dream because the train is not segmented in cars. I can see through the front and back. No one's here. I rush to where the driver should be. Maybe he can help me? But no one's there. It's getting colder and colder. My denim jacket feels wet now. I'm not going to cry. This is a dream. I sit down and regroup. This is a dream. How can the train be moving without anyone controlling it? Surely it will stop eventually? This is a dream. Please help me.
In one worldbuilding workshop that Sarah and I attended, there was a man who approached us and offered a one-time-only session wherein, he said, he will teach us watertight scenarios that can inform our storytelling for as long as we're writing. Infallible, he said. I declined. Superlatives and sweeping declarations scare me. Sarah also declined, but I know she later accepted in secret. I haven't seen Sarah for years now. I wonder if she'll believe me when I tell her about this train debacle I'm in. I wonder if I will ever get the chance to tell her.
Here: A summary. The train doesn't stop moving. There's no one driving it as far as I know. I'm alone here. It snows during MWF, the rest of the week it's "normal" condition. I found a socket at the driver's area where I can charge my phone. The first three days I was here, I screamed for help whenever my train passed by the stations. Now (day #41 as I write this) I just look for familiar faces. I don't know how this is happening. There seems to be a few nighttime hours that I can't remember. Do I sleep?
I get food from Ortigas station. The train slows down there on Thursdays and Fridays so I get the chance to reach for food from generous pasengers. I have no inkling of real time. I don't trust my cell phone time anymore. I confirm the date during "food days"—as I have come to call them. I get to talk to people, my brother and father sometimes. My cell phone is able to call and connect to the Internet, but by now I've ran out of things to say. I'm not happy and not sad. I'm just waiting and waiting.
I get rid of garbage at Ortigas station, too. My father brings me a change of clothes and my favorite pack of chips every three days. It's day #65 now, and I keep wishing for the "food stops"—as I now call them—to be at Shaw Blvd so that it's nearer to my father. I live here now, I decided last night. This is going to be my life. Other days I come to my senses and think of ways to remedy this...neverending journey. Someone once told me: "One week is too long." I've been here two months.
There's a train parking area, yes? I've seen it a couple of time in "Normal Days"—meaning pre-train debacle time. This parking area is near Trinoma. On that first day I hoped the train would take me there and let me off. Yes, that early I've come to regard this train as an entity with thought and decision. Such is my enormous tendency to give up control. Fast forward to today and my train has not stopped. The other functional trains time their movement according to my train's "schedule." I still pray for this to be a terrible dream.
Day #179. I miss coffee, hot meals, being still. I get coffee and hot meals regularly, but what I really miss is company. A table, ambient music, someone across or beside me, someone to talk to during meals. The Ortigas stops are unreliable now, length-wise. When before the train slows down to an almost-rolling stop so I can maybe spend a minute at the station—now it only gives me 20 seconds tops. Some days I still get a minute, and I appreciate a whole minute now more than ever. I miss Mama. She still hasn't visited me.
Hi, Ma. Your goingtowork sounds: Bathroom, shoes, kitchen, bedroom door, gate. Minutes after you leave and I still smell your perfume in the hallway. We only truly
each other on weekends. You call the house throughout the day to check on us. It used to annoy me—now I appreciate the consistency and affection that it entailed. Dinners without you have become normal, like your absence has eventually numbed us. When you're there it's a shock, as if we're starting over. My love for you is in these pockets of longing. I wish to find them again.
Day #320. Almost a year. Got bad news today. My cousin/best friend died. They won't tell me how it happened. At Ortigas station, 5:56 p.m., my aunt handed me a short note. I read it until Cubao. Sat down and wept until North Avenue. Was able to gather myself when we reached Santolan on the turn-back. At Ortigas station, my aunt is now on the southbound side, reaching out her hand for me to squeeze. Kind of hard through these train slats they call windows. We said goodbye via sad smiles. Then I wept and wept.
These MERSAN buses are pretty, no? The red rose motif brings me back to a sweet time. I can't pinpoint when exactly, just that it was nice and warm. Smells of tinsel and powder. A specific day in high school when I knew for sure that I gained a new friend, maybe that day. Or that day at the hospital when I fell from a bed and my uncle picked me up. I was three and tiny. He cradled me. I can still feel safe from that hug until now. My mother's smell perhaps. Or this right here. Yes, maybe.
A teenaged boy pleads with the conductor to let him on the bus to sell his wares. The boy walks-run as the bus moseys to the stoplight. The driver's torn, does he gas it or does he go on slowly? I think of my mother and the wishes she couldn't realize. I think of my brother and the places he couldn't reach. I think of everyone else who wants and needs important things to happen in their lives, at this moment, tomorrow, in the long-term. How is it easy for others, how is it so hard for some?
At Ayala station a man showed up one day at the spot I usually look at to check for notes from my friends. He was playing an accordion. On the turn-back I tried to get a better look at him. He was familiar yet distant. I feel like I know him yet his presence was jarring. I could hear his accordion faintly, he was playing Vincent that first day. My mother's favorite song. Beside him a cat was curled up. They stayed there for two more days. Whenever I passed by the cat was usually walking away from him.
Day #450. I woke up at Boni station today. There was something slimy in my right hand, and I dismissed it as a dream. Closed my eyes again to properly wake up. Then, a child's voice in my ear. "Hoy!" I threw the Slime at the boy and prepared to run. The boy, about 7, started laughing. "Laruan lang yan. Takot ka sa laruan?" Rico Blanco is singing from his phone. "Sasalubungin natin ang kinabukasan, nang walang takot at walang pangamba." This is maybe a dream? The boy got off at Guadalupe. I don't know why I didn't come with.
It's the day after the boy/slimy toy incident. At Buendia an old woman gets on. "Anong oras na po?" I ask. "Ngayon," she says. It might have been 4 a.m.? She hands me a bag with two pandesals in it. Warm. The smell instantly makes me cry. "Saan po kayo bababa? Pwede pong sumama?" "Ikaw ang bahala," she answers. She's calm yet I'm scared she might hurt me. Why is this suddenly possible? Surely someone controls this train? We still don't know why this is happening. I eat my bread, turn to the woman, and discover she's gone.
Dear Tammy: I remember our daily fights about that pesky seatbelt buckle at the right-hand passenger side. Well, not daily, but you get my drift. Also, about me "controlling" cars with my words and worry. You tell me: "Here, YOU DRIVE." Now I'm in a train that doesn't know where to go. I'm in motion and trapped. Near Buendia station I often see this couple making love by the side concrete structure where there's water and garbage. "Train girl!" The woman shouts each time she sees me. This is freedom and prison. I'm both in heaven and in pain.
Day #690. Got stuck at Taft station. Train won't budge. For a few hours I entertained the possibility that I'm getting out today. People ogled and jeered, as if it was fault that the trains had to halt operations. By hour #3 I was bored and just occupied myself with the ivy vines at the side. Delicate lilac flowers. Those orangey yellow perky flowers I like so much. One day plants will eat the city and its humans. A plant problem! Humans will lose, of course. By hour #8 my train's alive. Looks like it's determined to keep me moving.
I saw someone at Kamuning who looked like my grandma. When I was younger she told me that she was the one who named Mapagmahal Street. I believed her. It's raining hard today, EDSA is too grey. I remember Grandma's stories about kind strangers in jeepneys, about how they'd ask if she needed help. One time a snatcher stole her purse and returned it to her upon seeing a rosary; she said they had a nice conversation wherein she encouraged the young man to live clean. Whenever it was rainy, grandma would cook lugaw. Evaporated milk, tuyo. My favorite memory.
They say there are colors that have no names yet. I get this now. Have you seen enough sunsets? I bet you you haven't. I've been seeing them every day for almost 2 years now, and I know I haven't seen enough. The colors are crazy some days, and I get sad thinking that not everyone is seeing this...this champagne-colored 6 p.m., you can almost taste it. Buttery and sweet. It's as if there's sound, and the warm yellow is singing me to sleep but also telling me to stay awake. Have you seen enough sunsets? Never.
Day #719. Here's the truth, I don't miss my family and friends that much. Maybe because I see them regularly? And I get just the right dose of quality time? Notes, gifts, quick/quality conversations ("I miss you every day!" one of my friends would say once a month—and isn't that just what we need once a month to keep going?). What I miss: Hugs. Touch. Kisses. Linking arms. Warmth. Hand-holding for longer than 30 seconds. Crying together. Laughing together. Reading newspapers at the breakfast table. Coffee dates. Checking each other's teeth for food bits. Just—sitting together.
Of course, I also miss walking. In the real sense, wherein it brings me someplace new. Here in my train I can walk, sure, endlessly. But I see the same stuff and I never really go anywhere, right? When I was a kid during bus rides to Pampanga, I always ask my mom if we were the ones moving or is it the scenery that was moving? I used to think if the bus is in motion, then it's stationary in relation to the places it passes by, if that makes sense. I miss home but I like it here.
Had a dream about Dad telling me about his pet alpaca and how happy the soft fur is making him. In the dream we were living in Chile. His face, wow. When I woke up I had tears. Happy tears, I suppose. I remember he had that face when I brought him to a David Foster concert in Cubao. He kept clapping like a little boy, singing along, beaming. Over the years my father got sadder and sadder and we didn't know why or what to do. When I get out of here, he's the first person I will hug.
This morning my sister gave me a quick lesson on "staying present." She also gave me a pamphlet about "how we hurt people even without meaning to." What year is it? I asked her, as it seems aliens have taken her and spit her back and changed the year as well out of spite—to confuse humans, IDK what aliens are up to nowadays. "Shut!" my sister said. She "stayed" with me for 6 turn-backs. I didn't realize how much I missed her voice until nighttime when I kept passing Ortigas station and she wasn't there. Please help me.
My former BF, Ricky, once got so drunk during our courtship that we spent most of a car ride with his head on my shoulder and his drool on my arm. I knew then that we wouldn't last if we ever got together. It wasn't the drinking or the drool, it was...do you know what it was? I still don't know now, except that I was sure of it then. Anyway, he was consistent. This was why I said yes. Consistency is in my top 10 of commendable qualities. Consistency may as well be called tenacity. I miss Ricky.
Day #820. My father brought me a dress today. My favorite color. Red. "It's your 40th birthday." He looked like he was crying. We "had" breakfast over 4 turn-backs. Passengers are respectful today. No one tried to eavesdrop or take photos. Kept their distance. I've reached a level of sadness and resignation wherein I'm now planning months ahead in the context of me staying in this train. I ask Dad how he is, and he answers with his usual "Oh you know, getting by. We miss you. Have you thought about what we discussed? Barging through the glass windows?"
Ginebra has a game today. I know because Cubao is busy. Lots of people wearing red. Quiet Sunday? Impossible. As I write this, my train has passed the station 4 times already and the density of people has not abated. It's only 7 p.m., this may last until closing time. I stand by the door as my train passes by the waiting and stuck horde. They wave at me. I wonder what they think about when they see me. I can only see laughter and worry. Do they envy me? Do they wish they were ever-moving like me?
OK. Sure. My family and I have come up with a lot of escape plans. Most of them involve me jumping off from a great height, forcing myself through small openings—basically inflicting pain on myself. But what's a few minutes of pain compared to freedom, right? Have I told you about that time in Magallanes station when my train stopped and the door was open for 5 minutes? Did you know how long 5 minutes is? Super Fucking Long. It was early morning, no one saw what happened. I just stared at the doors. Too many paths to freedom.
I haven't talked to my mother in years. 10? 15? I forget. I used to count. It gave me a sense of success. Whatever. I forget now who started the freeze, but my bet is on her. She can be hurtful with her words. Of course I can justify my reasons with "attacks," I can access my lifelong ammunition of "You did this, you fix this." But that won't negate the fact that my mother is the only one who can love me like she does. She tried reaching out then but I resisted. Today she was at Ortigas station.
In college, my friend Lisa posed a query involving trains and airplanes. "Which is more powerful?"—a question that can be answered in more than one way. If, say, an airplane crashes right in the path of a train, then you have one answer. But the plane is destroyed as well, so who would have "won" there? If an airplane attempting to take off gets stuck on a railway then a speeding train decimates it, did any of them "win"? Is winning tantamount to power? Lisa gave up asking me and just asked that we go home. So we did.
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