Short story: Tram encounters
It is dark outside.
I sit in the tram, tired.
I stare out of the window absentmindedly.
My face is reflected in the window, but I do not see it. What I do see is a woman outside at the station. And a man, a young man with a black coat, seemingly overlapping her.
Ah. He is a reflection. Not outside, but inside.
The tram begins to move, and we leave the woman behind us.
I glance over my shoulder at the seat across the aisle, and at the man in the black coat. Then I look back into the darkness, and at his reflection.
He is listening to music. He has a moustache, larger than most, too large almost. It reminds me of a picture of Nietzsche I once saw. His hair is slicked back. There are shadows under the eyes, but without the defeated look of everyday exhaustion that often accompanies such shadows.
He is young, twenty-something, and is enjoying his music. His head nods in time with it. He does not close his eyes, but I expect him to. As the woman across from him gets up, he gives a friendly double-wink, closing both eyes for half a second and opening the again to a somewhat distant smile.
The tram moves on and he continues to enjoy his music. His attention to the music is now absolute, he nods his head more vigorously, mouths the words. There are brief tremors of ecstasy when favourite passages of the song hit his ears.
I am enraptured by his display of free-wheeling passion, so different from faces grey with the everyday I see all around.
Now, a boy approaches. Red sweater, jogging pants. He too listens to music. He too nods his head. Their reflections overlap and I wonder – what makes the two so different?
The boy in red is young, his face is mild, without dark shadows.
He has been spared.
And he listens to his music calmly. It does not sink in.
His attention is elsewhere.
And his passion? I cannot imagine where his passion lies.
Behind him, the man in black displays passion.
The man in black is no longer in the tram but in his music, and as he realises his stop is near he jerks up, as if disturbed in a dream.
As he prepares to get out, he stows away his music player, and gives a few seconds of the everyday. An anonymous person like any other, poker faced.
But then - a hint of a smile comes back, and as the tram halts and the doors open, he leaps out in a burst of energy. He is tall, very tall. Two more strides and he is gone.
I cannot help but smile.
What is it that keeps people alive?
It is my stop, and the boy in the red sweater gets off with me.
He has a dufflebag slung over his shoulder, and walks normally, without any hurry. Behind me, he telephones.
“So is it ok if I come by for breakfast tomorrow morning? At 10?” “Yes, 10 is good for me, so I can still sleep for a bit.”
At 10 on a Wednesday, good student visits grandma.
I think of what the man in the black coat will eat for breakfast tomorrow. Somehow, I don’t think that breakfast is something he does.
I watch the student who is still a boy turn the corner.
In his red sweater and tracksuit bottoms, the clean curly hair and shadowless face, I picture him sitting at breakfast the next day with his grandma.
I bet he’s punctual.
Illustration: Marwa Mezher