The husband’s voice was incessant, cutting through the continuous grey noise of the rambling train. He sat up straight with impeccable posture, yelling into his phone, complaining about something or the other. He wore a seemingly expensive suit, repeatedly checking the time on his gold watch as though it would make the train move faster. He sat with an air of superiority, careful not to brush shoulders with any stranger beside him. He thought of himself as the man about town, the one others craved to be. More accurately, most of the others on the train just wished he would shut his mouth.
The man sat with his wife, a beautiful woman. She kept nervously glancing at her husband, wanting to ask him to lower his voice. Something inside silenced her though, rendering her unable to protest against him. Determined, she attempted to hold his hand as a way to get through to him, to remind him of her presence. She rubbed her thumb against his knuckles, trying to open his grasp. The husband gave her a brief look of annoyance before brushing her hand away. The wife, dismayed, sighed. She began rummaging through her purse, looking for nothing in particular. Perhaps just a distraction from the fact that people were looking at her, silently complaining about her insufferable husband. Although she had always considered herself an empowered woman, ever since her marriage she had felt powerless. She had always wished to get married, to find someone to love, but she had never felt more alone than with this man who betrothed her for reasons forgotten. Her husband spoke to her as though she was truly nothing to him, just another object he had purchased with his money.
Was that it? She thought. Do I not show him enough affection? Does he think I’m with his for his money?
She shook her head abruptly in an effort to rid herself of these thoughts. No. She would not blame herself for the cruelty of her husband. It couldn’t be her fault. She was done being manipulated; done thinking that she got what she deserved. She had been noticing the man sitting next to her, observing the scene with keen eyes.
The stranger gave her a smile. A kind, understanding sort of smile. A smile that she couldn’t help but return. He could see the pain in the wife’s eyes. He understood it. He had been through it. He knew her misery, her struggle, her silenced voice. He knew it because it used to be his. He, too, shook his head. No point dwelling in the past now. All he could think of now was how to help this woman. He knew that she wouldn’t want him making a scene. She didn’t need a spectacle being made out of her weaknesses. The stranger knew that she was at the lowest point of her life, and her most vulnerable. He glanced at the husband, who was still on his phone, oblivious to his wife’s suffering. The husband’s selfishness nauseated the stranger. He hated people like that. People who didn’t give a damn about what others were experiencing as long as it didn’t affect his life. His success. His happiness.
He looked carefully at the wife. She was still rummaging through her purse, hoping the stranger would look away. There was something about him that she found so enticing that she couldn’t quite place her finger on. The stranger, too, couldn’t deny that there was a strange attractiveness to this woman, that went beyond her physical beauty.
Slowly, he crept his hand towards hers, carefully so the husband wouldn’t notice. The wife glanced at him momentarily, before immediately bringing her attention back towards her purse. Her right hand rummaged through her bag while the left lay on the seat.
The man’s hand touched hers, and he let the hand lie still. He didn’t want to scare her away. He hoped that she would respond and grasp his hand too.
She didn’t quite do that. However, she didn’t pull away either. Despite herself, the wife smiled shyly, hiding it within the depths of her purse. Their hands stayed there, just barely touching. A passerby wouldn’t have even noticed it, nor would they have thought of it as anything other than the usual touching that comes with train travel. But to the two of them, the simple touch meant so much more. It felt safe. It felt hopeful. It felt of unspoken dreams. And perhaps that was for the best, because their dreams were shapeless, indefinite. The future could hold friendship, it could hold romance, or maybe just an escape.
Whatever the case may be, in that train, with this stranger, the wife felt slightly less alone.
My name is Ronaq Sahni and I'm 17 years old. I'm a senior from South Brunswick High School, and I've worked on the school newspaper, a writing blog called A Lack of Clarity, and have been published on the Youth Poets Network. I love having creative outlets, whether that be through writing or music.