She walks onto the train platform in a world under covers, still quiet and dreaming. It’s that strange time between night and day, the stars just left the sky and the light is dim and soft as if through a curtain. That’s where she should be too: behind curtains, tucked into bed and she’d hoped she’d be the only one not there. But looking across the dim-lit cobble stone station there are two other figures, one sprawled across the single bench and one a bit further away, small and huddled. Uncomfortably aware of her footsteps, each one a gunshot disturbance in the sleepy silence, she makes her way over to the ticket dispenser between the two. Every noise is too loud, the hum of the printer and the mechanic click of the stamp feel like outrageous violations to a universal pledge of silence. She lets the heavy bag slide off her shoulder and sits down on top of it. How did she get here? She asks herself and retraces her steps. She walked up the stairs to the station from the bus-stop on the vacant street after getting off the night-bus that she took from… No. She knows exactly how she got “here” – dismantled and examined in detail it’s a simple stream of action: one thing, then another thing. All of which lead her to the station: leaned against a trash can, waiting for the train to come and digging her hands deep into the pockets of that far too large coat. Still, she has no idea how she ended up here.
Tentative sunrays start peaking through the trees, dotting the gray stone surroundings with cold yellow. She holds her arms closer to her body and with a shiver moves her eyes from the flickering light of the vending machine to the bench on her left. Her gaze moves slowly across the limp body, examining it closely, taking in every detail. Where did he come from? His head rests on a make-shift pillow of newspapers, the soles of his feet face her, one dangling off the side of the bench. Though their profile seems worn, the dark brown leather looks sturdy, warm and well kept, a contrast to the rest of the man’s clothing. During the day, awake and on a crowded station, he wouldn’t stand out against anyone else in jeans and a black rain jacket, but both, though not terribly so, look seasoned. Half hidden behind a scraggly beard with hints of gray in it, his face looks as tired and aged as his clothing. Despite the deep furrows in his brow, lines of worry marking his face, he seems oddly peaceful in the early morning sunlight. The neon lights overhead go out one by one with a buzz and the man shifts in his sleep, groaning softly. The edge of a colorful scarf falls out from the high zipped collar of the jacket. It looks fumbled and thrown together with total disregard of any color scheme, but somehow completes him. A Christmas gift perhaps, made at school “Daddy, Daddy, look, I made this for you!” What happened to the child and the distracted hug thank you because there isn’t any time “there are so many more presents, look!” She imagines him on his way home; maybe he missed last night’s train. Though the array of empty bottles, strangely beautiful as they glow in shades of brown and emerald, suggest otherwise. Feeling suddenly like an intruder she shifts her eye’s focus away from him.
The hands of the large clock on the far end of the platform show a time that feels out of line with the morning. Moving too fast. Too little time till the train arrives. She shakes the thought from her head. She shifts her bag slightly, to catch as much as she can of the increasingly warm sunrays. Or maybe to move the man on the bench and the clock from her peripheral. Either way she now finds herself with a clear view of the second man. He is small, wearing a baggy suit, seems almost more shadow than person. His right hand clings to a business suitcase with white knuckles, and purple fingers. The ill-fitted pants wave around him like a flag. Did they fit him once? Did his shoulders once fill out the shoulders of the broad jacket that seems to eat him up now? It’s ironed, carefully. The crispness underlining his angular features. The cheekbones stick out underneath the hollows of his eyes, his skin stretched taught over them. She spots a missed patch of stubble on the taught jaw. He blinks for the first time since she started studying him. A tiny flash of movement, before his gaze returns to an invisible point in the distance. Looking at him she feels like she is looking into a hole – the negative space of a painting. Clearly there, but lacking any substance. It’s hard to tell how old he is. He resembles a boy playing dress up with his father’s clothes, desperately hoping to fit them one day. Despite the exhausting written all over his face and the eyes that look like burned out candles in their sockets, he can’t be older than thirty. And why is he here? Going to work? Coming home from it? Maybe a funeral – if the black suit is any indication. She’ll never know and isn’t sure she wants to.
Resting her head on her knees she closes her eyes, shutting out the morning that still feels underwater. Closing herself to the bottles and the business suit. She remains like this, relishing the silence of her companions in their shared solitude, dreading the train’s arrival. When it does come, she collects her belongings, steps inside and lets it whisk her away. Removing her from the station almost as quickly as the two men begin to fade in her memory.
by Lilian Kelley, 16, John F. Kennedy School, Berlin, Germany