18. The air was bitter, icy whispers of the wind…(D.de Klerk)5 min read

The air was bitter, icy whispers of the wind cascading through the lifeless train station, bellowing a mournful groan that echoes through the empty air. Walking across the platform, the subtle crunch of frost on the cement floor under my boots, I stand at the edge of the luminous, glowing yellow line bordering the rusted-brown tracks, waiting for the screams of the train wheels to cry out in the distance. I look around the barren station, drowned in silence with the abandoned benches bent and curved with age, searching for a sign of life. No luck. I begin to accept my solitude for my morning train ride to the city, until something catches my eye. A dark figure, huddling into their wispy-thin coat in an attempt to protect themselves from the cold. Before I can catch a glimpse of their face the sharp sting from the track shrieks into my ear, turning my attention to the dust-smothered train lumbering towards me. 

The doors open, hissing as the misted glass windows shakes and rumbles from the shudders, revealing the carriage within. I step in quickly upon hearing the soft thuds of the stranger’s feet behind me. Finding the closest seat near me, next to afogged up window, I sit, arms crossed, head down, ready for the long journey ahead. I don’t look up as I hear the shivering breaths of the stranger. I don’t utter a sound as I listen to them enter onto the carriage, their steps sending tremors along the flooring as they walk down the passage of red-velvet seats. Finally, I hear their exasperated sigh from metres away as they sink into the cushioned seat. I close my eyes, ready to sleep from the drowsiness of the cold winter morning, but a voice calls out through the silence.

“It’s a bit miserable today, don’t you think?”

The deep, bold voice exists from the stranger’s muffled mouth, and I look up, ready to answer the man in a quipped, friendly reply, but I stopped short. His eyes. Greener than the fields that passed by the window of the now speeding train. I hadn’t even noticed that we had started moving. Shining emerald somewhat illuminated the dreary room of the carriage as his eyes kept their gaze on me, awaiting my reply. Around them, deep wrinkles of age softly encircled the incandescentcolour of his irises, contrasting vividly against the darkness of his skin, like jewels captured in the rich soil of hazel-coloured earth. 

I uttered a nervous laugh, a playful mist from the warmth of my breath finding its way up into the frigid air, reaching their snow-white fingers through the atmosphere before disintegrating into oblivion. I nod my head, hoping that it is enough of an answer as I found my voice caught in my throat. He smiles, a beam shining from the pearly-whites of his teeth. Turning my head away I look out the window, searching for a distraction in the view beyond. But all my eyes are met with is the blanket of fog pressing eagerly against the glass, blindfolding the train in an envelope of hazy grey. 

“You on your way to the city?”

Another question. His voice, although deep, is soft to hear, almost like the sound of distant thunder mumbling in the far beyond. I turn back, and I see he has removed his coat and hat. His head is crowned with hair, curled and twisted into intricate braiding, ebony-black with fletches of white peeking through the mass. Bands of gold and silver hold it in place, the metals reflecting flickers of light from the dull bulb of the nearby wall-lamp. 

“Yes, just for the day. Are you?”

My voice, more confident, fills the silent void as he slowly nods his head to answer me. The awkward silence from before now descends into a peaceful tranquillity, the rumbles of the train’s movements lulling the carriage into a soft rhythm like a soft heartbeat felt through a gentle sleep. It seems as if only seconds have passed between me and this stranger, but from the window came the sudden flourish of darkness. We were descending into the tunnel that leads into the city. I had arrived at my destination.

I push my hands down into the softness of the cushion below me, standing myself up. As I walk along the passage I grab onto the mahogany railings bordering the seats, finding my way to the larger window at the door of the train through the hazy darkness of the carriage. As I place myself in front, cementing my feet onto the floorboard to avoid succumbing to the bumps of the train wheels, I await the light on the other side. And it comes, at first a flash of white, blurred light stinging my eyes till they squinted with pain. Then, visual aesthetic of the city skyline, the buildings seemingly holding up the sky, their windows winking into the sunlight. The mist had disappeared, leaving the air clean, crisp and filled with gold from the fiery ball of yellow resting in the sky. 

I turn to look back at the stranger, readying a reply for another one of his quip comments or subtle observations, but he isn’t there. His seat is left untouched, as if no life had even existed in its presence. As I hear the wheels outside shriek against the track like nails to a chalkboard, I walk towards the seat, swaying and stumbling with the stopping motion of the train. Questions flood my mind like a tsunami, confusion pricking into my thoughts like ice. Did he walk away through the side door to go into the other carriage? But surely I would have heard that. 

My thoughts are interrupted. The doors behind me open with the sound of a dragon’s breath, growling to signify my time to leave. I swing myself around and walk out, my shaky legs stepping onto the stone flooring of the station. With the stranger at the back of my mind, I continue forwards, ready to face the concrete jungle.