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. *