Contemporary Sad Friendship

I’m sitting on a bench at the empty train station when a magpie hops along the train tracks. It doesn’t make a sound as it does so, as if it thinks the whole world is asleep at this early hour and is afraid of waking everyone up. It’s my only source of entertainment as I waste endless minutes waiting for my train, which has been delayed.

Keeping my eyes trained on the bird, I blow cool air into my steaming drink before taking a cautious sip, the scalding liquid tingling on my taste-buds and warming my insides for just one, relieving second. As I do, the magpie hops onto the platform, curiously watching me with black, beady eyes. I feel somewhat awkward as I make eye-contact with the creature, just as I would with any human, but soon it spreads it’s wings and flies away. Only a few seconds later, I’m missing the company.

I take another sip of the tea, then keep taking small sips, allowing it to wake me up for the long day ahead. Although it’s cheap and watery, it helps to fight off the cold, heating the flesh of my hands and slowly melting away the ice that has surrounded my heart for so long.

Living on the run is cold, but living in that household with those people was so much colder.

I’ve almost finished the drink by the time there’s a high-pitched hissing that travels along the train tracks. I stand to my feet, watching as the tiny headlights of the train grow bigger with each second that passes. It screeches to a stop, and I get on as soon as the doors open, eager to get away from the frozen night’s air.

Just like the station, the train is almost void of life, only a middle-aged couple and a teen boy around my age are on this carriage.

I find a seat facing forward, somewhat near to the boy. His eyes meet mine, and I quickly turn mine away. But of course our tiny interaction doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Hey,” he says. It takes me a small moment to realise that he’s talking to me.

“Hey,” I say back. My voice cracks through the word and I cough awkwardly.

He seems happy that I spoke to him, as if he’s surprised there’s someone giving him the time of day. “Where are you heading to at--” he takes a moment to look at his watch. It seems quiet old and it’s a little too big for his wrist. “Four in the morning?”

I shrug my shoulders, my tired eyes travelling to the seat in front of me so I don’t have to meet his. “Nowhere special.”

I glance back at the boy to gage his reaction, but he simply blinks at me. “That’s very mysterious.”

“I don’t really have a plan,” I admit. “I’ll be on this train for a few stops then… I’m not sure what happens next.”

“Are you on the run?” he asks. I feel like I should be irritated by his pestering, but it’s quite comforting. No one has taken an interest in me for as long as I can remember. Except for that magpie, I guess.

“Yes. Are you?”

He shakes his head, a strand of brunette hair flopping down in front of one eye. “I’m going to stay with my Dad for a while. He lives hours away.”

I nod in understanding, unsure of what else to say. It’s only around 5 minutes later when the train squeals to a stop at the next platform. This one is even more isolated than the last one, except for the lone magpie stood on a bench. I give the magpie a moment’s thought before bringing myself back to my surroundings, too tired to consider the weird coincidence.

“Do you really not have a plan?” the boy asks, breaking the silence of the carriage. The train starts moving again, away from the desolate station.

“No,” I reply, before reconsidering my answer. “Well, I don’t know. My aim was just to go to some city, somehow find a job then eventually get myself an apartment. You know, start up a new life for myself.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen,” I tell him. “You?”

“Eighteen.” A minuscule smile splashes across his features, his blue eyes brightening the slightest bit. “Do you mind if I sit with you? I haven’t spoken to anyone other than a bored train conductor in what feels like forever.”

I consider it for a moment, glancing at my large bag occupying the seat beside me, before looking over at the table seat he has all to himself.

“I’ll come to you,” I decide. Lifting my bag from the seat, I move swiftly so that I’m sat opposite him. I accidentally bump my knee against his under the table and an awkward apology escapes me, followed by a small pocket of silence.

“You know, I think you should come with me,” he says, voice low as if he’s telling me a secret.

I give him an odd look, slightly stunned that he would be so forward with that kind of offer. “We literally just met,” I remind him. “You could have the intention of murdering me, for all I know.”

He chuckles. It’s a warm sound that resonates through the carriage, although I’m just now realising how tired his voice sounds. Has he been awake as long as I have?

“There’s always that chance, isn’t there?” he smirks. Then his face turns a little serious. “I just mean that, if you really have no plan, you should come with me. Dad lives in a city, he could help you find a job. If you don’t like it, you could always just move onto your next adventure.”

Although I’ve just met the guy, I’m already intrigued by this opportunity. I guess it would be a lot easier going to a city with a few connections rather than none at all. So I nod. “That sounds good. Thanks for… helping out.”

“No worries. But we’ll need to get off in a few stops to get a different train. Then it’s just a straight line to the city. I’m not sure about you, but I wouldn’t mind getting some food soon.”

At the mention of food, a small gurgle erupts from my gut. Apart from that tea, I haven’t consumed anything since lunch yesterday, which was nothing more than a cheap baguette from a gas station. Rationing money is hard, especially as you walk by the fast-food restaurants and instantly start craving an expensive burger.

Maybe, if this all works out, I’ll be able to afford them.

The rest of the train journey is very relaxed. The middle-aged couple get off, a small family with two, sleeping children get on. The boy and I talk for a small while, getting to know a little bit about one another. Then I realise there’s a question that has yet to be asked.

“What’s your name?” I ask him.

“Daniel,” he says. “Yours?”

I hesitate for a moment. Should I go ahead and give him my real name, or should I take this as a chance to change my identity completely?

“Mason,” I lie. It’s the name of my brother-- the one family member I ever felt close with. I guess that will do.

“Mason,” he says, testing out the word on his tongue. “Nice.”

A small smile flits onto my face, the first in a long time. I’m about to speak up again when Daniel starts getting up from his seat, the train making it’s gradual halt into a station. “This is our stop,” he says.

Grabbing my bag, I follow him off the train, into the cold night’s air. This station is a bit bigger than the ones before, with a few people loitering around and talking with one another. Most of them seem drunk, one man supporting his almost comatose friend with a sour look on his face, but at least the place is somewhat alive.

“We should get breakfast,” Daniel suggests. I continue to follow him as he walks to a café that is apparently open twenty-four hours a day. The bell above the door jingles as we step through, and the warmth surrounds me like a duvet, causing a pit of longing to grow in my stomach.

I miss having a duvet to hide under.

Daniel orders his food first, asking the kind, young woman behind the counter for a bacon roll and a hot chocolate. I’m not entirely sure what I want, so I order a bacon roll too, purely so I’m not trying to decide on a food option for longer than necessary.

Although I’m desperate to relish in the warmth of the café, Daniel has already started walking back out into the cold. After paying for my food with the limited money I have remaining, I follow him outside and sit beside him on a bench.

Daylight is beginning to seep through the inky darkness of night. It’s still ridiculously early, but it’s refreshing to see a new day starting, just as it is every morning. Daniel and I eat our food in silence, innocently watching as the people around us live their lives. It’s only when we finish eating that I see a magpie. Again.

The blur of black and white and blue swoops across the sky before landing a few metres away. It hops silently away from a group of rowdy, drunken men and over to us, where it starts cautiously picking at the bacon roll crumbs Daniel had dropped.

“That bird’s stalking me,” I mutter. I didn’t exactly mean for Daniel to hear, but he does anyway.

“Ouu, unlucky,” he chuckles. “One for sorrow.”

I glance from him and back to the magpie. “Maybe it’s trying to tell me something,” I joke, nudging Daniel in the side. “Like how I shouldn’t be following a boy I just met to the city.”

“Please don’t say you believe in that stuff,” he groans. “You should totally be following a boy you just met to the city.”

I shake my head. “I don’t. It’s just weird, I’ve seen three of those in the last hour now.”

“They’re taking over the world,” Daniel laughs. I chuckle along with him, before Daniel’s smile fades. “Look, I’m glad you decided to join me. I didn’t think you would, but it’s nice to have the company.”

“It’s okay,” I say genuinely. “It’s nice for me too, and it’s nice having somewhat of a plan now.”

“You’re a cool guy. I’m glad we met.”

His comment warms me up. “Me too.”

But the moment is over almost as quickly as it begun.

A few of the drunken men make their way over to us. The magpie startles and makes a quick exit, flapping it’s wings and flying away. But I’m too focused on these men, who loom over Daniel and I, to take proper notice.

“How’s it going, lads?” one of them grunts. His bushy beard makes him look older than he probably is, his arms are patterned with dark tattoos, and the stench of alcohol radiating off him almost brings tears to my eyes. I exchange a nervous look with Daniel, who looks terrified.

“What? Cat got your tongue?” another one says.

I shake my head, starting to stand up so Daniel and I can find somewhere better to sit. Now I really wish we had just sat in the café.

Daniel stands up, too, but the men get rowdy. They start shouting insults and hurtful words about the darker colour of my skin and the way that Daniel looks. Without sparing them another moment, I grab Daniel’s arm and start to lead him away.

It was a horrible idea.

Arms wind around my head so I’m caught in a headlock. I try to fight back, but I’m weak and exhausted and this guy is so much larger than me. Adrenaline hits me with the force of a hurricane as I kick and hit, but there’s no escape.

I look over at Daniel, who has frozen. He watches me with a horrified expression all over his face for a long time as I fight back as much as possible.

But then he grabs my bag and he runs away.

He escapes, just like that magpie had.

Desperation to survive kicks in and I somehow manage to get out of the headlock. I’m about to make a run for it, before I’m shoved.

I’m shoved and I fall hard, hitting my head on a solid object. The edges of my sight tinge with darkness as the pain shoots throughout my body.

Through the haze of pain and fear, I open my eyes to see that I’ve landed on the track. The train track.

And the train is coming.

It doesn’t stop in time.

July 19, 2021 21:29

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