Thursday, February 21, 2013

Last Train

I was staring out the window. Well, I was pretending to stare out the window; it was dark outside and the harsh light in the train turned my window into a one-way mirror. All I could see was the empty look in my own eyes. I knew anyone standing outside the train as it went by could see it, too.

It was the last train of the night, when the night was at its darkest and people at their worst. The train was full of them. Drunks. Addicts. Outcasts. Runaways. The girl who refused to do the walk of shame in broad daylight, guilt in her eyes. The man in a wrinkled suit, skin white where his wedding band used to be. The old woman, weary and tired, eyes swollen and red.

And me. Riding the train because I had nowhere else to go.

Just like the rest of them.

The man in the seat in front of me reeked of stale urine and sweat and alcohol. His eyes met mine in the window, distorted by the false mirror. Everything lies.

They were empty, his eyes. Like mine. A glimmer of recognition. One vagrant recognizing another.

Slowly, he turned around in his seat and faced me. Waited until I looked up to offer me his drink. Cheap vodka. Two for one.

The bottle was unopened and I took it, trying to tell myself I would’ve accepted it even he’d been drinking from it. Pride wasn’t my friend anymore.

“You look lonely.” A statement. His voice was soft and friendly.

“So do you.”

“Good. Loneliness makes alcohol taste better.” He winked at me, and suddenly his eyes weren’t quite so empty.

“Are you sure it’s not alcohol that makes loneliness taste better?”

“Oh, you might be right. Chickens and eggs, you know.”

Silence stretched between us as I took another sip from the bottle.

“I’m homeless, too.” I wasn’t, of course. But I wasn’t really lying; my soul felt lost enough to be homeless.

“I lost everything. My wife, my kids, my home, my dignity.”

He sighed deeply and as the train hummed its lullaby, he told me his story of woe.

“I’m sorry.” And I really was. He was a drunk, but he was also a person who’d been through hell, and this is what hell did to people. It broke them, left them battered and lonely, sitting on the last train of the night, filthy and smelly, soaking up the last of the warmth, staring at hollow reflections in the window.

Except, he wasn’t broken. He wasn’t gone. He’d started talking to me. He’d shared his booze and his story, expecting nothing in return. Perhaps there was hope for humanity still.

As I stood up to get off the train, to go find my way back home again, he grabbed my arm and looked at me for a long time.

“I don’t suppose you have any change, do you?”

I gave him the loose change in my pocket and moved to a different seat. I wasn’t getting off the train just yet.

This post is part of Nicky and Mike’s 30 Minus 2 Days of Writing challenge. Today’s prompt is Last train. Go check out We Work For Cheese for a list of the other participants. *


  1. Sometimes you listen, and then you have to move.

    I know this man. He sometimes rides my bus.

  2. I think he rides every bus and train he can find.

  3. You are so right, Reffie, hell is a fickle mistress.

  4. An interesting piece, Ziva. There is a lot more to these two characters than is evident from the conversation. Makes me wonder what circumstances brought her here.

  5. Thank you, Linda. I'm afraid "interesting" was all I could muster up today, this challenge is killing me, and I'm all out of funny and endearing. ;)

  6. I like this a lot. Gritty, seedy and some danger that could easily escalate.

  7. Is this how you and MWJ first met???

    Really nice writing ,Ziva!

  8. Once again... beautifully written...

  9. I didn't realize that was you Ziva. I would have asked you for some of that asphalt candy of yours if I'd only known.

  10. I would've given you all the candy I had, all you had to do was ask.

  11. Okay, this is so well written it makes me WANT to get on a train - in the middle of the night - and I LOATHE any form of public transportation.

  12. Oh Meleah, if you're getting on a train, choose another train, not this one. ;)

  13. One vagrant recognizing another.... amazing how we can fall into step with someone whose soul mirrors our own.

  14. This is exceptional, Lemmikki. You're right, we never look past the surface to see that the homeless, the broken... they are people who ended up on a path that any one of us could have ended up on.

  15. Well yeah. That train is all kinds of sad!

  16. Hi Ziva, I'm impressed by this vignette, as I am so often with your tales. You're a great writer, Z, with humanity and depth in the places I can only fill with funny badgers. Indigo x

  17. Oh but Indigo, there is more humanity and depth in your badgers and other assorted animals than I ever thought possible.

  18. mikewjattoomanymorningsFebruary 24, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    I'm still drunk, too.

  19. mikewjattoomanymorningsFebruary 24, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    I've ridden that train. Maybe we all have. None us truly wants to, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

    Another brilliant bit of writing, Ziva. I wouldn't have wanted to be feeling whatever it was you were feeling when you wrote it.

  20. I really like the complex mix of the emotions you're conveying here. There's so much empathy and human compassion throughout, and then you punctuate the end with a sharp turn of inevitable cynicism. This is a great example of good story construction, Ziva.

  21. Thank you, Michael. I'm sorry you've ridden that train, but I guess you're right; sometimes it's unavoidable. Luckily, most of us find a way to get off the train sooner or later. :)

  22. Thank you, KZ, I'm really glad you liked it. It wouldn't have been Ziva without a bit of a dark twist at the end. ;)



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