I grasped tight in my hand, the strap handles dangling from the roof of the train. At least, it was the one thing I have yet to let go.

Unlike the many things I had to let go of this day.

The train bumped upwards, sending a jitter through my body. A drag to the right as the train ground to a halt at a station. The familiar ‘ding-dong’ as the doors slid open, I closed my eyes and imprinted it within my brain. This definitely wouldn’t be the last time I rode this commuter, but whatever I still have, I want to grasp tight. I want to know it’s there, as solid as the handle I had wrapped my fingers around.

Please, let me cherish this ride home, I prayed.

The passenger in front of me, sitting on the seats, stood up and left. At long last, some relief for my legs. He glanced at me for just a brief moment, at the edge between the platform and the carriage—a message I interpreted as, ‘Yeah, you can have the seat you have been staring at for so long now.’ Which I responded with a nod.

I let go of the strap. Right as the train tumbled back into motion, very nearly sending me flying. The strap now dangled in the air, empty and aimless. I steadied myself and unslung my schoolbag, hugging it to my chest.

Holding it tight, as I sat down.

The sound of something being crushed.

I leaped right back up, gaze landing upon the unidentified item on the seat the passenger had left behind.

Feeling my eyebrows furrow, I picked up the parcel, just slightly larger than my hand, rectangular (or at least it had once been, before I sat on it) and packaged with a delicate wrapping paper of floral design. A simple red ribbon adorned the top. Glimpsing only the surface, you’d feel that it was a simple gift, but as you investigate the neat, tidy folds of the wrapping paper, the minimal amount of tape used, it becomes obvious, how much attention to detail was poured into this little gift. It certainly must be directed at somebody who was cherished from the bottom of the heart.

And it was simply abandoned here, on a nondescript seat in a nondescript train, ferrying thousands of nondescript people here and there on a daily basis. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it. I’d drop it off at the lost-and-found center later, I decided. Although I highly doubted it would find its way to whoever it once belonged to.

I lifted my head. Somebody else had taken my seat. Another somebody else had also taken hold of the strap I had occupied earlier.

Then the parcel would be the last thing I’m holding on to.

Before that, too, I have to let go of.


There are many forms of defiance.

There are those people who go out into the streets, those who form part of a mob, utilizing the strength in their numbers to pulverize its opposition. Then there are those who work their way up into fame, and then they make their speeches, using the influence they’ve gained, becoming the grand leaders of an opposition, rather than just a face in the crowd.

And then there are those who just silently wait, those who know they have no role to play, but they satiate themselves with little acts, little plays at being defiant, those that play no benefit to anyone other than themselves. Like in the Handmaid’s Tale, I recalled from one of the summer reading assignments I did a long time ago, a book I never really liked, but memories like those have a way of enduring in your mind. How the main character basically spent her days wandering between the beautiful past and the bleak present, chanting resentments against the oppressive dystopian government that governed her life, yet never achieving anything in the end, leaving behind only a hollow-sounding story as a record of her days.

Wasn’t it a tragic way to end a story?

The thought echoed blankly in my head, only because that was exactly what I was doing. A selfish, childish cry against the hands of time, silently stealing everything away from me. I stepped into my room, a good kilometer or so from the station, and removed the elegantly wrapped parcel from my schoolbag.

I’ll offer up my only excuse: Unless he were to comb through every single station on the line, he wouldn’t have found it anyway, even if I were to leave it in the hands of the lost-and-found. It was destined to be lost forever, was what I selfishly concluded. Believing the excuse I spent my ride home concocting, I slipped the package into my schoolbag, took a breath, and left the train, amidst the chimes I hear every single day.

So now, armed with a pair of scissors, I snipped apart the wrapping paper, with as much care as I could muster. To tear it open ravenously, would be unbelievably disrespectful to the love that was poured into it, I figured. Another hopeless excuse for myself, opening a gift that didn’t belong to me.

Behind the wrapping, there was an elegant box, made of polished, pale wood, like the desks in my school. My school? Shouldn’t I say alma mater at this point? Smooth to the touch, and again, it was simple. A simple gold ribbon was wrapped around it, attached to which was a note.

Scrawled in full capital:


No, I don’t want to.

I cut the ribbon, opened the wooden box. Resting in a bed of velvet, another box. This time of darker, cruder wood. A simple string bound it shut, like the string they use in Girl Scouts to teach you how to tie knots. About as thick as a shoelace. I was in Girl Scouts some time ago, although I quit almost immediately. Having to march underneath the blazing sun was unbearable. Why was it that I joined? I took a breath, remembering.

Because she made me to. I couldn’t refuse. She was my best friend, after all.


Yes, I am. I am very afraid.

Was it because the gift seemed to be reading my mind, or was it because—

Next layer. A tiny, square package, made of cardboard. A note was taped to the top.


I ripped out the note, opening the final layer. And then—


It was morning.

I snagged my uniform off the hanger in my closet, picked up my schoolbag, ran out of the house with a fire burning in my chest.

‘Good morning, Leila!’ I yelled out, from the bottom of my heart.

It had always been like this.

Always. A routine we took for granted. That she’d always be by my side. That we’ll always return to those gates, with the guard grinning at us from the old guardhouse, the main school building that stood tall and proud, despite the years wearing down on it. Even if things never changed, I would never get bored of it.

‘Leila, lend me your homework,’ I’d demand of her.

To which she’ll sigh, she’ll complain, she’ll threaten to report me to the teachers, but in the end she’ll reluctantly pull out the heaps of paper printouts our teachers assigned us. Then we’d go to class, praying the teachers wouldn’t notice the copied homework, then we’d go to the canteen and chat over fries and burgers.

The canteen. The long, metallic tabletops, the floor that was always stained with some sort of food, the aunties at the stalls with tempers that ranged as wide as the Grand Canyon. The old lady at the drinks stall had the foulest temper of them all, snapping back with a vengeance whenever anybody tried to take an extra straw. The auntie at the spaghetti stall that would urge people to hurry up every few seconds or so. The auntie that the soup noodles stall that frowned whenever somebody spilled their food onto the floor.

Upon those grey cement floors, I once collapsed onto, scrunching up a letter in my hands.

‘H—He broke up. With me—’ I remembered sobbing, the loss of my first love. What a mess. And it was enacting before my eyes, my tear-stained eyes reading the letter again and again, searching for even the slightest glimmer of hope, but it was never there.

Humiliating, it was, but Leila placed a steady hand on my shoulder, led me to the toilet—where I cried my eyeballs out in peace and quiet, Leila standing by the toilet door to ward off unwarranted visitors. She would then tell me, with a tiny smile on her face, ‘I won’t leave you. That, I promise you.’

First love. First heartbreak. High school was a bunch of firsts. I brought Leila to the first laser battle station in our town—which she turned out to be terrible at. Leila got into several relationships over the course of four years, rapid-fire relationships that ended cleanly, most of the time. Leila liked to laugh and say, ‘It’s not the time yet.’

I’d always thought that wasn’t right. How she got into and ended relationships, seemingly with the wave of a hand. ‘You take too many things seriously,’ she replied.

I don’t believe I’ll ever see eye-to-eye with her on that, but, as I later realized, we all needed people like that in our lives. So that the weight of our lives never feels quite as bad. So that we can laugh, in spite of anything. So that we can have fun.

‘That’s the most important thing in life,’ she said. ‘Have fun.’

‘How philosophical,’ I spited.

‘I’m not philosophical. You’re the one that thinks too much.’

The school garden. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful place, by any means. The largest tree on the fields turned out to be bald, the flowers alternated between wilting and thriving on a regular basis. Rock steps sprouted from the grass at intervals, where we used to play a strange variation of The Floor is Lava, before we realized how childish that was, and we’ve sworn it off ever since.

One night, we sneaked into the school compound on our own. It was a whim of Leila’s. The garden, I remembered, actually looked quite good, illuminated by the silvery moonlight. Maybe because it was dark, so we couldn’t see the flaws as clearly as we did in daylight. I yelled at her for being a bad influence, when we got caught by the guard, who wasn’t grinning then. A horrid fight, I remembered. I hung out with some of my other classmates, who liked to remind me what a bad, reckless person Leila was. We reconciled, of course, because adolescent minds like us are never able to hold onto a grudge for too long, are we?

Exams. I took them very seriously. Leila said she wasn’t going to college—I was never sure if she was serious or not. The hall that became our exam location, transformed into a solemn place with tables laid in a precise, orderly fashion, in sharp contrast to how it echoed with laughter during our PE sessions. I hated exams. That at least I should make clear. But I wanted to get into a good college, and then into a good university. I made Leila study at my place once. She hated it. But her results skyrocketed from rock bottom to the middle range.

She gave it up later, though.

So as the bells tolled for our final exams, Leila was the only one who headed into it with a confident smile.

You never take anything seriously, do you? I grumbled.

After a toiling week, the exams were finally over. Partying ensued. Leila and I headed to a few of those, dressed up in the poshest dresses we could afford with our savings. We even drank a bit. Not enough to get drunk, of course. ‘We’re almost adults anyways,’ was the excuse Leila offered. I played along.

My seventeenth birthday fell right after the finals. ‘I’m getting old,’ I complained, counting the years on my fingers and my toes. How fast. I was a senior at school now. The years flew by, I couldn’t help but lament, watching the pigeons outside my house fly off, in tidy V-arrangement.

Before I knew it, it was Graduation Day.

The last day of school.

They raised the school flag. I never knew we had one, and it was as lame as I expected. The school song. Followed by a speech by the principal, sounding like he had repeated it as many times as the number of strands in his greying beard. We received our certificates. Some of the other girls threw graduation hats outside afterwards.

‘What college are you going to?’ Leila asked.

‘I’ve registered for a few,’ I replied. ‘If I’m lucky I might be going to New York after summer.’

Leila laughed. ‘I don’t want to go to college. Sounds like hell.’

At the gates now. The guard was waving at the dispersing crowd of graduates.

‘Bye then. We’ll hang out during summer?’ I said.

She nodded. ‘Maybe.’

The school building that stood tall, despite its year wearing down upon it. The rusted gates. The juniors waving from the classroom.

It didn’t feel real.

I didn’t feel like a fully-grown, 17-year-old girl heading out for college soon.

The distinct sound of a car pulling up behind us.


It was Leila’s mom, I realized. Getting out of the sleek black car—was that a Mercedes? She smiled politely at me, turning to her daughter. ‘We’ll be leaving now.’

‘So fast, Mom?!’ Even Leila seemed to be taken aback.


‘Leila’s going to her college in Washington DC,’ her mom said. ‘Right now. They’ve approved your application form already. The dorm’s all ready—’

‘My baggage?’

‘I packed them for you. Sorry, this is a bit sudden—but we have to hurry,’ she eyed Leila.

Leila turned to me. ‘I—I understand. Bye, then.’

She took her mother’s hand. ‘Bye, Helen. We’ll chat online, okay?’


Isn’t this—


I waved to her, like we were just leaving school on a normal day.

She smiled. The door slammed shut.



The pain that brought me back to reality, the nails digging into my thighs. They say your life flashes before our eyes when we die, so what is this? Am I about to die? The notion made me laugh, just ever so slightly. Leila used to say that, a lot—

A lot. So many things that I wanted to tell her.

So many things, they’d fill up an entire thesis paper. They’d overflow from my palms, wash over the entire house in tears.


It ended. Just like that. My phone lay beside me, my mailbox empty. I walked to their house after house—she lived a few streets across from the school. Empty. The doorbell rang and echoed in the vacant hallways. A sign hung on the door. For sale/rent.

Maybe it was fated to become like this, I lied to myself. Letting it go. Moving on, like they keep telling you. The train that carried me away, the wind whooshing in my ears as I gazed behind me—


A three-letter word like that couldn’t even convey anything. The lengths of a proper farewell, compressed into a simple word. Leila wouldn’t think too much about it. Because she never does. She’d be on the car trip now, happily thinking about her new college, her new future—

While I’m still grounded here in the past. 

I looked at the box.

Oh. There was another note.

In a starkly different handwriting. A familiar one.

Words I couldn’t say constricted themselves in my throat, tears streaming down the sides of my cheek in rivulets.

Thanks for everything, Helen.



May 02, 2020 03:17

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Pragya Rathore
05:52 Jun 04, 2020

I really liked this one. You did a brilliant job conveying human emotions. It was a beautiful interpretation of the prompt. Amazing!!


Haruko Otonashi
06:16 Jun 04, 2020

Thank you! And thanks for the follow as well!


Pragya Rathore
06:24 Jun 04, 2020

My pleasure :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.