“You should have just let her jump the gate,” my coworker, Angie, said.
“That’s against the rules,” I sighed. That’s how all my fellow train station managers feel. If a customer’s solution is too complicated, my coworkers let them go through the emergency exit gate.
She shrugged in response.
I heard a tap on the glass and turned to find a confused-looking customer, card in hand. I hate when they tap on the glass as if I’m a fish in an aquarium. After I assisted them, I wrote “DO NOT TAP ON THE GLASS PLEASE” on a sticky note and taped it to the glass.
“So,” my coworker began, “first night-shift. You nervous?”
“No, why would I be?”
“I don’t know,” she paused to look me up and down. “You just seem like the nervous type.”
Even though I had been a station manager for over a month, I was nervous. I know what to expect for the day shifts, and my coworkers make it seem like the night shifts are a whole other world.
A few hours went by until I finally got the courage to ask Angie what the night shift was like. I asked as nonchalantly as I could, but she still gave me a smug look in response.
“It’s pretty much the same as the day shift,” she explained. “People won’t have enough money on the card, they don’t know which platform to get on, they missed their train and blame you. Ya know, the usual.”
I nodded, feeling reassured. “Okay, that sounds easy enough.”
“Oh, and another thing,” she took a sip through her straw. “Every once in a while, there’s a bunch of kids who come late at night. Never have cards, always jump the gate, and it’s almost always after the last train.”
I’d had an uneventful night by the time midnight rolled around. Angie was right, it was more or less the same as the day shifts.
I tidied up my side of the station, packed up my bag, and walked out the door. As I was fumbling with my keys, I saw a red flash out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see a tall man with blonde hair in a red flannel walk toward the gate and jump over with ease.
“Hey!” I yelled. He looked over, not at all surprised to see me, and smiled as he continued walking to the escalator. “The station is closed. You missed the last train.”
“Oh, did I?” he said as he walked backward
“You need to leave, I’m locking up!” I raised my voice as he walked down the escalator.
I set down my bag and walked purposefully to the platform. When I reached the escalator, I saw the blonde-haired man in a group of other people. I frowned to myself as I hadn’t noticed anyone else jump the gate.
That’s it, no more gate-jumping on my watch.
“Excuse me,” I said in my best authoritative-yet-respectful tone. The laughter only grew louder, but I couldn’t tell if it was at my expense. “Excuse me!”
They turned to look at me, smiles still on their faces. I couldn’t help but notice how light and happy they looked. I hesitated for a moment before I remembered that I was supposed to yell at them. They all looked at me expectantly, and I cleared my throat.
“I am closing the station now, so you all have to leave. You shouldn’t even be on the platform anyways if you didn’t scan your card, but I’m willing to forget that if you will respectfully leave without me having to ask again,” I said.
They continued to stare at me until the blonde-hair-red-flannel man snickered. I glared at him.
“What’s so funny?” I asked. He shook his head, but the smirk on his face remained. “I’m sorry that you missed your train, but that really is on you all–.”
“What makes you think we missed our train?” One of the girls asked, eyebrows raised at me.
“Because the last train. It already left–,” I raised my wrist to check my watch when I heard the faint sound of a train whistle. I looked up at the group who all wore knowing grins.
“Sorry, what was that you were saying?” The blonde-hair-red-flannel man asked.
I turned to my right to look down the tracks. Shockingly, I saw the lights of a train flashing around the bend of the tunnel. A single car made its way to the platform and stopped in front of us. The lights turned on and the doors opened, waiting for passengers to come aboard.
The rest of the group got on the train, but the man I originally chased stayed.
“You should join us,” he said.
It appeared his resting face was that of a smug grin and mischievous eyes. His invitation sounded genuine, and for a moment, I thought about accepting.
“Absolutely not! And neither should any of you! This is an unauthorized train. I must report this to my manager,” I pulled out my phone to search for my manager’s number. I turned to see the entire group, blonde-hair-red-flannel man included, smiling in their seats. He looked up from the conversation and locked eyes with me. I couldn’t look away, so I stared back, and he raised his eyebrows in response.
We both know what you’re about to do, his expression read.
The alarm signaled that the doors would close any second. I only had a moment to think about it before I decided to jog through the car doors. They immediately shut behind me and I realized there was no turning back.
The group is just as shocked as I am by my presence in the car, except for the blonde-hair-red-flannel man, who looks at me with a huge grin on his face and seems completely amused by the entire situation.
He doesn’t break eye contact with me and I feel my cheeks start to turn pink.
“What’s your name?” Blonde-hair-red-flannel man asked.
“Joseph,” I said.
He stood up from his seat and confidently planted his feet in front of me. I had to tilt my head to meet his eyes.
“The name is Felix. Welcome aboard,” he said as his hand touched his chest. “These are my friends.”
They all smiled at me, still obviously unsure how to feel about me being here. As Felix gestured to his friends, I noticed the handprints everywhere, all in different shades of gray. They blended into each other so well it looked like the car was painted in grayscale. There was scribbling on each hand: Accountant, Politician, Janitor, Teacher, Gardener, Cashier; the list went on.
“What is all this?” I asked
“People’s lives,” Felix shrugged.
“Where did you all say this train was going?” I asked loudly enough for everyone to hear.
“Wherever the last train takes us,” Felix smiled.
As we walked up the stairs after the train dropped us off, I noticed the same pattern of handprints on the walls that decorated the train car walls. Except, these were much more colorful. Written on them was Painter, Poet, Writer, Journalist, Mother, Friend, Scientist, and more. We reached the top of the stairs where “welcome to the abandoned platform” was written in black paint on the floor.
Soft yellow light painted the walls of the underground platform. Couches and tables were scattered, each occupied by several people deep in conversation. Mesmerized, I made my way through the crowd, and overheard conversation about books I’ve never read, movies I’ve never watched, and people I’ve never heard of. When I reached the edge of the platform, I peered down to where the tracks should have been to see different types of artists creating and selling their work.
It was as if this underground world was different from the one above.
Felix walked to a bench in the corner and sat with his legs crossed. I hesitated before I walked closer to him.
“Tell me, Joseph,” he took a swig from his drink, “are you going to report us?”
“How can I not, Felix?” I exclaimed. “You didn’t swipe your card. You took an unauthorized train to an abandoned platform. And to make matters worse, you are somehow involved in-in… whatever all this is!”
“And I suppose if you don’t report us, you’ll get in trouble and you don’t want that.”
“Well of course I don’t! I need this job, I actually care-.”
Felix stood up to meet me where I stood. “Cut it out, Joseph, and be real with me. Clearly you don’t care enough about the job. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have followed one guy to the aforementioned abandoned platform just to threaten a report.”
What was he implying that I wanted to follow him down here, as if I had nothing better to do?
While I was lost in that train of thought, another man, not much older than us, walked up to Felix. He told him he looked good, that the blonde hair suited him. I couldn’t help but agree.
Felix was somewhat attractive. He was tall and lean, he had a sharp jawline, and a permanent smirk that added a level of confidence that could easily draw people in. What people, I’m not sure. I’m just noting his appearance for the report I must write later.
As I was taking mental pictures (for the report), I realized Felix was giving this other man nothing to work with. Funnily enough, Felix was staring right at me, ignoring the man’s advances. I looked at the ground out of awkwardness and waited until the man left. He did eventually, and I could see Felix’s face return to normal. Admittedly, it was a better look on him.
“So, Joseph,” Felix began, “what is it that you do?”
I furrowed my brow at him. Is he joking?
“Uh, I’m a station manager.”
“No, no. What is it you do? When you go home after managing the station.”
“I mean, I watch TV and make dinner before I go to bed,” I said.
He cocked his head at me, clearly disappointed in my evening routine. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to hide my embarrassment.
“Alright, let’s try this again,” Felix rubbed his face with his hands before resting them on my shoulders. They were…big. “What is it you used to do but no longer do because you had to become a station manager?”
I was taken aback by his bluntness and the implication of his question. Sure, I wanted to be a cartographer some time ago, but we all have to start somewhere, right?
“I used to make maps for fiction books when I was growing up. But there’s nothing wrong with being a station manager,” I argued.
He removed his hands from my shoulders and held them up in front of him. “Hey now, I never said there was. It’s an important job to keep good people away from troublemakers like me. What is wrong is giving up on what gives you life.”
I didn’t have a response, so Felix continued, “which is why I started The Abandoned.”
“Wait, what?” I asked.
“The Abandoned. Where you are presently,” Felix said simply. “I found that too many people, even young people, have given up on what they love doing on some level. I wanted to give people a space to rediscover that love without the pressure of up there. I wanted to help people fall in love with life again.”
I stared at Felix in awe.
“It’s nothing really,” Felix said. “Just some tables and chairs, and people of course. I suppose you could do this anywhere, but I liked the metaphor.”
I nodded. I broke eye contact and looked at the ground, still unsure of what words to string together as a response.
“Ya know,” Felix said, “these walls are pretty bare, don’t you think?”
He winked at me. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but then it clicked. I smiled at him, sat at the nearest table with a sketchbook, and started working again. Felix didn’t have to keep me company, but I’m glad he did.
It didn’t take me very long to finish the map. For not having done so in who knows how long, it didn’t look half bad. I turned it around to show Felix, and I couldn’t help notice how handsome he looks when he’s proud of someone, when he’s proud of me.
We must’ve talked for hours. Other people came and went, but we stayed put. I liked hearing about other interests and passions. I enjoyed sharing my own because of the support and encouragement everyone gave me. Felix and I stole glances from each other throughout the night.
“Trust me, I’m not as exciting in my normal life,” I told him.
“I find that very hard to believe,” he whispered back.
“Actually,” I told him, realizing I could show him something that may be on par with tonight. “There is one place. Follow me.”
It didn’t take a lot of convincing. Minutes later we were both above ground, Felix close to my side. There’s a building not far from the platform that I often go to that has the best view in the city.
We make it to the top of the building and I see that we only have a few seconds before we miss it.
“Come over here! Lay down!” I said.
He does so with urgency, but I can tell he’s confused. A few moments of silence go by and I can feel Felix stare at me. He was about to ask what was happening, I’m sure, but then I heard the rumble of the plane engine and the wind started to pick up. Seconds later, the underside of the plane covered our view of the sky almost completely. The wind and engine made it impossible to hear Felix’s laugh, so I looked over to watch him instead. I’ve seen this before anyways, but never his reaction.
After the plane passed, Felix shot up, still giddy and energized. He asked me how I knew that would happen and I shrugged; I wanted to keep him interested.
“You took me to the lowest part of the city, I took you to the highest,” I told him.
He smiled and sat back down in front of me, our toes touching. He asked me where I’d take him next so I asked him where he’d like to go.
“You call the shots, Joseph. I’ll follow.”
We stayed on the roof for a while longer before we made our way back to the platform. The rest of the group was standing in front of the car we took, looking exhausted. I offered to drive the car back and, unsurprisingly, no one objected. Without saying anything, Felix joined me in the driver’s room.
We covered all of the basics: school, family, friends, and other things like that. He hung onto my every word. It felt nice, really nice. My cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing by the time we pulled back into the station where we came from.
I grabbed my bag from the station and locked up behind me. I walked up to the ground level where the group was waiting for me.
“When can I see you all again?” I asked.
They smiled and told me soon. Then they waved at me and walked off. Felix stayed behind. His head was hung low and his hands were in his pockets. I hadn’t seen him look so nervous all night.
“I hope I haven’t gotten you fired, because now I have an in with the station managers,” Felix said, eyes on the ground.
Was that the only reason for tonight? He looked up and registered the look on my face.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” he rushed his words out. “I’m sorry, I just get nervous when… you know what?”
Felix walked over to me, gently put his hands on either side of my face, and kissed me. Sweet and warm, soft and firm. He knew what he wanted, and what he wanted was me. I kissed him back because I knew I wanted him as well.
A few days went by and I still hadn’t seen Felix or anyone else from The Abandoned.
That’s okay, I told myself. I picked up some extra shifts at the station. Not because I wanted to up my chances of seeing Felix, but because a little extra money never hurt.
I helped as many customers as I could before I let them jump the gate. Sometimes it just wasn’t worth the hassle, and I’m sure these people had somewhere important to be. I didn’t want to be the cause of their tardiness. I was riding this train of thought when I heard a tap on the glass. Someone had taken the post-it note down, and I was going to write a new one right after I helped the customer.
The customer was Felix.
He stood there, card in hand, and a look of confusion on his face. I got out of the station to meet him.
“Hey there,” he started. “Sorry about that, it’s just been so long since I’ve used one of these things. I’ve forgotten how they work.”
I smiled and shook my head at him.
“You just tap it.”
He tried that and it flashed red. He smiled at me and shrugged.
“Oh well, there’s nowhere important I need to be, anyways. Not anymore,” he said.
He nodded his head toward the exit, asking me to come with him on his newest great adventure. Or maybe just a walk around the block to get coffee. Either way, I couldn’t say no.
I walked with him, hand-in-hand, and didn’t even look back when Angie started banging on the glass. I had somewhere more important I needed to be anyway.