He watched as she boarded the train. He took in everything at a glance: Her long hair falling in straggly ends over her shoulder, the strap of her bag across her chest accentuating her breasts, the tired look on her face, the short skirt, the iPod in her hand. He was drawn to her for some reason, and in that split second, he decided to follow her home.
She hated the journey home. She was mildly irritated when she saw that the train was crowded for a Sunday night. Spotting a cabin that had decidedly less people, she walked slowly towards it, her back hunched. Oblivious to the looks she was attracting, she slided lazily onto the hard molded plastic seat, closed her eyes and clutched her iPod tight.
He was behind her as soon as she stepped onto the platform. It was the terminal, and everyone got off here. However, it being the last train of the night, there was only a sprinkling of people here and there. He had to keep a safe distance. He didn’t know that the music was blasting so loudly in her ears, and she was so lost in the lyrics of the songs, that throughout the ten minutes that he had stalked at her elbow, she hadn’t realise there was someone there at all. He put in hand into his pocket and pulled out a Swiss Army knife. Swiftly, he released a blade. Tiny but lethal.
They came to a sheltered walkway at her neighbourhood. She was almost home and she was relieved. She took a deep breath and was about to reach for her bag when she felt a hand shoot out from behind her to cup her mouth. The grip wasn’t strong. In fact, she felt it was rather tentative. Her attacker didn’t say anything for five seconds, so while she had been wildly shaken by the stranger, she bravely pried the hand from her mouth and turned around quickly. A young man, barely in his twenties, stood before her, sweat pouring profusely down the sides of his face.
He saw that she had been crying. Taken aback, he faltered for a moment. The face before him was one of fear, and yet it was overshadowed by the imploring look in her eyes, where he could see tears that had fallen down her cheek a few seconds before he found courage to approach her. Suddenly feeling small, probably dwarfed by her questioning silence, he waved the knife vaguely in front of her and said, “Give me your iPod.”
She looked down at the iPod in her hand, still playing music from the earphones that now hung from it limply. “I’ll give my ATM card. And my pin number. Don’t take my iPod.” Her knuckles were white from gripping the music player in her palm. “Please. I need…” Without finishing her sentence, her knees went weak and she crumbled to the floor. Her shoulders were shaking violently from crying, and the rough floors had scraped her knees, but her fist was still clenched.
He was stunned. He didn’t expect anything like this to happen. All he wanted was to grab the iPod and run for his life. His girlfriend would love to have it, and this girl, she didn’t look like she needed it, judging from the neighbourhood she lived in. It wasn’t the first time he did something like that. He was madly in love with his girlfriend, but he didn’t have the money to buy her gifts, so he resorted to such means. He worked as a kitchen helper to make ends meet, as his pregnant girlfriend was too weak to work. Everytime he saw how his girlfriend, his future wife, smiled whenever she saw the things he ‘bought’ her, his heart swelled. But now, before him, the girl was in pain. He felt a need to help her, and he suddenly realized why he was drawn to her in the first place. Putting the knife on the floor beside her, he sat down slowly beside her, and stammering, he asked her if she was alright.
Her crying didn’t subside until fifteen minutes later. Then, not remembering at all that this stranger had attacked her, she started talking. She talked, with a distant look in her eyes, about her boyfriend who had passed away six months ago. When he died, she felt he had robbed her of her own life. The iPod, still in her hand, was the one and only gift from him. The day he died, he was out with his wife, celebrating their wedding anniversary, when a drunk motorist rode over a curb and hit him. She talked about their past with a fondness that was heartbreaking. She hadn’t been able to tell anyone about her sorrow because of the secrets she had to keep.
And he was quiet. After she stopped, he took her silence as an invitation for him to tell his story. They chatted for hours, and it was almost 4am in the morning when his girlfriend called him on his mobile to ask where he was. The both of them stood up and smiled awkwardly at each other. Putting the knife back into his pocket, he looked at her shyly before bowing his head and apologizing. She patted his shoulder, and, smiling, she reached into her bag and slipped a fifty-dollar note out of her wallet. He looked at her in shock. Reaching out his hand to refuse her, he felt her crush the bill into his palm. With that, she turned away. Looking at her retreating shadow, he felt touched, rather than insulted by her gesture.
As they both went back to their respective homes, grateful for what they had received from each other, they quietly wished they had what the other had. A love, and a home. Both empty without the other.