I was more excited about who'd seat next to me rather than the journey I was about to set.
I remember how we used to get up early in the morning to catch the train for Hay Town. With mom and dad and Eddie rushing all over the house, stuffing things which we needed not but keeping them just incase. Then dad would assemble the luggage in the trunk and race at full speed. He probably would have made us reach Hay Town earlier than the train at that speed, but we'd take the train anyway because dad and Eddie loved that "Choo Choo" every now and then and the sturdy tyres scratching the rail tracks tenderly.
Since Eddie died in a car accident while we were returning from school, dad never headed for the train station again.
So, after all those years, twenty at most, I stood before the train station's receptionist's desk handing the payment for the ticket which the scrawny lady grabbed roughly, balanced her lean spectacles on the bridge of her long nose, counted the money and handed me a ticket in return to seat number four.
I scrambled up the terminal and leaned on the pillar, waiting for the train. Soon enough, I looked up to realize that I stood under termial two's board that was pinned on the red bricked pillar on which my shoulder rested.
I wondered if they repaired the pillars frequently but the cracks that creased it's base showed it hadn't been repaired in a long while.
I remembered how Eddie used to lean against the same pillar, observing the passerbys closely while I just toyed around with the luggage.
That mere thought consoled me and striked me with intense nostalgia which thickened as my ears caught the sound of the train's "Choo Choo".
The train came racing in and halted with a shrill screech. Dragging my luggage behind me, I stepped up the fragile steel stairs that lead inside the cabin. My eyes shifted for seat number four. I stuffed my luggage of things I needed not in the drawer above my seat.
Panting, I took my seat and felt comfort rising as I gazed outside the window. Heads and heads were still darting all around.
"Tap tap! Move your way old bug", I heard an irked pitch. On turning my head back, I caught sight of the tallest girl in the row, her pale white buttoned shirt clinging generously from her broad shoulders, long thick legs covered by faded pink jeans, brown hair braided roughly, swollen blue eyes, and sneakered feet that tapped irritantly.
"Be patient young lady" the old woman who dragged her luggage lazily, replied back crossly.
The girl rolled her eyes and heaved her red bag forward, abruptly stopping before me and sitting on the seat. I gazed at her for a second while she scrunched her copper brown hair in a half top knot and started unclinging her tangled headphone's wire.
The creases and slight swell beneathe her eyes showed she had been crying lately. I wondered what may have been wrong with her.
Anyhow, I looked away as the train started whistling, yet again tethering some lost memories, and I pulled back the dotted curtain and gazed outside the window.
Whenever I tried fixating my gaze at some house with tinted rooftops or an unsual building, the fast speed swiped it away bringing in the next view.
I remembered how I and Eddie used to squabble as to who'd sit next to the window and we ended up doing half times, taking note of even one minute. "No half time this time brother" I giggled, stuffing a finger in my mouth to stop it from escaping. I was pretty sure I hadn't made any kind of sound yet I heard a muffled voice.
I glanced sideways to see the brunette with her pointed chin resting on her white palms that had their elbows dug in her broad knees. Her eyes were shut forcefully and partially covered but I saw some tears smoothly unclinging from her lower lash.
I had always had a very soft heart. I recalled whenever Eddie used to cut his knee and mom would wash the wound, he would groan painfully and it always made me cry.
So helplessly, I felt my arm lunging toward her shoulder and grabbing it gently, "Are y-you alright?"
She was shocked suddenly with the touch of my hand and I hesitantly pulled it away, feeling my face blush deeply. "I'm fine thankyou", she replied firmly, passing a slight smile as she wiped the tear with her cuff.
I shifted my gaze uneasily. She was so confident and calm while I couldn't even talk to her properly. I had always been shy. "What do you do when your throat is full?" She asked suddenly. "Wh-what do you mean by that?" I stuttered, my eyes still searching for a nexus. "Like when you feel like crying and you're about to burst", she replied quickly, staring right in my eyes which made me even more uncomfortable.
"I tend to scream but since you-"
"DAMN YOU STEVE DAMN YOUR UGLY MONKEY FACE AND THAT AWFUL BIG NOSE AND THAT UGH THAT PERFECT SMILE I fall for". She stopped screaming and burried her head between her legs. Maybe she was avoiding the weary wide eyed glances but she was a confident girl, so probably she was weeping again as I saw her shoulders trembling slightly.
"It did help" the girl spoke after a short while, straightening her back. I laughed. "That was really bold of you".
"What's your name?"
"I'm Max", I still hesitated when she looked at me directly.
"Tori", she stretched out her hand and I caught it, giving a curt shake with my gaze bouncing sideways, back and forth.
"That's an unusual name Tori" I smiled, almost meeting her gaze.
"It sure is" Tori smiled. The rest of the ten minutes passed away in silence. With an occassional cry or a sniff, sometimes followed by the footsteps of snack vendors or a snore from the backseat contrasted with the immutable "tick tick" of the tyres scratching the train tracks.
The train screeched indicating it was about to pull up for a quick fresh up. After most of the people had climbed out, I heaved up. Tori followed me as I tumbled down the stairs, my legs numb from staying still. "Care for a cup of tea?" I turned and asked her. She nodded courteously. Pulling a seat for her, I took the opposite one, ordering two cups of tea.
"If caffeine wasn't ever discovered, I wonder if I'd have the strength to cover the rest of the distance." I remembered how dad used to say whenever we stopped in the very cafè.
"Did you ever fall in love?" Tori asked suddenly, invading my thoughts. "N-no" I shook my head. "It was my first time. It hurts so bad" Tori suppressed the lump in her throat. "One way or another, you'd get over it" I told her, thoughtlessly.
"Hey have you ever tried sleeping upside down?" She started giggling. "Never", I clasped a hand on my mouth and grinned widely. Her mood swings fascinated me.
"Once I told my little sister she would lose her freckles if she slept with her head dangling from the bed all night long. But half way through, she fall down and her head banged so hard against the floor that my cat jumped right on her face", she started laughing hard, throwing her head back.
I watched her laugh for a while and realized she would have been a jolly mischievous girl before she got dumped. Soon, I was laughing along.
"And when I tried the same thing with him, he never- he", Tori stopped, shut her mouth and shrugged. "You do love him Tori", I gazed at her.
"With all that I ever had", she shut her eyes letting the silence flow. "He'd always run his fingers through my hair and we'd stare at the twinkling stars. He'd tell me I was the best thing that ever happened to him. And he said he was so in love and I, I was the only colour in his life. If it wasn't for me, the world was grey. But when she came along, he shoved me away and I blended in the dull background. In the grey", Tori told me, playing with her pointed fingertips.
"Them humans" I smiled. "Them humans"she nodded. "By the way, I wonder why you don't have a girl. You have nice hair you know", she giggled. I shifted my eyes uneasily. "Because I love my brother. I can't cheat on him" I grinned. She roared with laughter, clutching her stomach, "Bromance! Whoa that's kind of rare to find now. I bet you have loads of fun with him." "You bet", I smiled.
Humans. They love to judge.
We hurried toward the train. She cried frequently, then suddenly broke out laughing. It made me uneasy. It made me nervous. We had spent three hours together, yet I wasn't getting used to her over powering personality. The thing that impressed me the most was her confidence. I had always wanted to be confident. Eddie was one bold guy which balanced the situation and made things easier for me but after he died, I certainly had a hard time dealing things on my own.
I didn't have the courage to talk to people, blend in and be social. If she wouldn't have talked to me, I would have hardly uttered a single word. But to some extent, I was immensely glad that I made a travel buddy especially as exotic and interesting as Tori.
She was so mysterious. She was so unusual. She was an open book, yet I didn't understand her or maybe, I just avoided being judgemental.
"Did you ever watch the traffic signal closely?", Tori pulled the corner of my shirt as I shut the novel I was reading. "Not really", I shook my head. "It looks like a person. It has a head and a long pole as the body. And two arms stretched out, both of them indicating"she explained drawing it on her palm. "That's an unusual lot of imagination", I watched her palm closely.
Usually, I preferred listening to music when I was on a long journey but she kept on pulling my shirt or tapping my shoulder, and I'd take off my headphones, listen to what she had to say, mostly some weird thought or question she pulled out of nowhere, and then I'd put them back on.
If I was some sulky guy I would find her rather irritating at times, but I liked it when she kept on ignoring the fact that she was disturbing me and kept on doing things her way. When things got quieter, she'd start crying and I'd pull a tissue or two out of my pocket.
"Thoughts on titanic" I said. "Never touched the bar which would make me cry" she replied attentively. "Light or dark?"
"Light ofcourse. But when it's noon I-"
"I dont need explainations. That's not how this questionnaire goes. Just give me to the point answers", I interrupted.
"Peter pan or Alladin?"
"Captain Hook" she grinned.
"Enough with this", I scowled, telling Eddie that she was even worst than me in this game.
"I'm sorry. Give me another chance", she flashed a playful grin.
"It's fine, we're cool with this", I shrugged, gazing out the window.
"Money or girl?", she laughed, tilting her head. I realized she had a light dimple on her left cheek.
"Travel" I grinned .
"Travel or your beloved brother?"
"Travel", I nodded.
She stopped and drew an uneasy breath. "Why?"
"I can't reach to him unless I travel."
"Are you travelling to meet him?"
"I can't say because I can't predict future. All I can tell you is that I don't intend to do that or want it to happen either. I'm happy with my life."
She gasped but kept quiet. I was glad she didn't tell me she was sorry. It sounds so unrealistic when people say that.
I hated it when the train screeched again. I hated it when the tyres stopped ticking. I hated it when people started climbing out and the hassle began.
"You were the best travel buddy I ever had" she mumbled, giving me a light hug. I backed away slightly, trying to flush the red away from my burning cheeks.
"I don't know about that since it was my first time after Eddie", I told her, still trying to bring my colour back to normal. "I wonder if we'd ever get to travel together again."
"Probably not", I jerked my head.
"But I do hope we would",she smiled.
I watched her leave. Watched her fixing her copper hair. Buttoning her shirt. Pushing angrily past the scurrying people.
But I let her leave. I could have asked for her number. I watched her cry and laugh. I watched her being overly bold and confident. But I never asked her to stay in touch. It wasn't because of me being shy. Maybe I was avoiding the particles of love that wandered in the air.
Because I know,
Come and go,
It's better to avoid,
Than to indulge,
For you have them now,
You'd only have them once.
Tori. Once when I felt lonely, I googled her name. Tori means bird. So I, let her fly. And I, hoped she would cage the unnecassary feelings and keep on flying till it felt right. I wondered at times, where she was and what happened to Steve. Whether she got over him or was in love with someone else. But all I know was that I never met her again, and never met someone like her either.