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  • Writer's pictureAmr Abbas

Things Left Unsaid

For Alice.


I watched the hands on my wristwatch intently. They moved fluidly, without ticking. For most of my childhood, all the analog clocks and watches that I’ve seen ticked. This one, it did not. The fluidity of time was ever more terrifying all of a sudden, it moved like calm waves, no sudden movement, no missing seconds, and it was all in that wristwatch that I felt that.

“Why is the train late?” A voice asked from behind.

And just like that, time vanished even in its own occurrence. I looked at the man, tattered and worn, weary and old. For all the dirt that covered his boots and the lower parts of his trousers, he had a warm smile. I smiled and shrugged a shoulder.

“It’s always late, or early,” I answered, and glanced at the railway. No lights were shining through the tunnel, but I could hear and feel the wind on the back of my shirt.

His smile did not waver. His eyes, narrow and tired, watched me for a second. It was a strange glance that he’d given me. It was as if he was reading into my very core, reading fortune or a past that I had neglected to calculate or rediscover.

Finally, he answered. I was anticipating the answer, expecting it to be conclusive, a smile or a wave, or a smile and a wave, but the man answered with the same smile that had carried on and lingered on his pleasant face. “Perhaps it’s because you expect it to arrive on time that it never does?”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Are you saying that the train is late because I’m expecting it to be late?”

“Or early.” He responded, full-wittedly.

I tilted my head. I couldn’t tell if he was joking or spreading a piece of ancient wisdom. Perhaps it was both, and neither, all at once.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

He looked over my shoulder and shrugged. “There,” he said. Then he walked past me like a specter.

I followed him with my gaze first, but then I found my feet following the man to the bench where he sat, leaving enough space for me to sit next to him. He leaned back and dropped the red hood of his raincoat. His hair was short, unkempt and he had a bit of stubble, much like mine.

“May I?” I asked politely as I began to remove the straps of my backpack from my shoulders.

He did not look at me. “So, I leave a space for you next to me, you are removing your backpack, what is the point in asking? You may, if you insist on the invalid politeness,” he answered, his voice dreamy.

“Err,” I stopped short of sitting next to him. “I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“Perhaps not, but does a train impose when it arrives at its destination?” He asked.

I sat down, my head tilted. “What do you mean?”

He turned his head to look at me and he laughed quietly. He did not answer, and in a way, I understood the silence. I looked at him, a smile on my face, then I looked at his shoes. They were red, just like his coat. They were long, and even though he was tall, they looked odd.

“Fancy my shoes?” He asked.

They were covered in dirt and mud. They were torn and tattered, beaten, and broken.

“Not particularly. I am only curious about your destination,” I answered, a smile on my face.

“Of course, you fancy my shoes. They were once admirable.” He smiled and wrinkled his nose. His hands slid into his pockets. “While they may not be anymore, they still fit me, a little long around the toes, a little wide around the ankles, but it’s important that they are.”

“And why is that?” I asked.

“Because where they stomp, someone laughs, where they land, another giggles,” he spoke.

“I’ve told you before, I absolutely hate clowns,” I responded.

Suddenly, he straightened his back. He looked me straight in the eyes, “What?”

I shrugged, “Were you a clown?”

“In a past life, perhaps. What did you say before that?” He asked, his eyes narrowing further, but the smile was unwavering.

“I cannot recall,” said I.

He smiled, “I am retired.”

I nodded my head, “And where do you intend to go?”

“Well, this once, I am not sure.” He pointed at the hanging sign.

The platform number was the only thing that lit up the electronic sign. It had no destination or arrival time, all blacked out.

“What of you? What are you doing here, friend?” He tilted his head at me; a giggling smile poking out of his curved lips.

I threw my head back and shrugged, “I guess I am waiting.”

“Nonsense,” he responded sharply.

When I looked at him, we both laughed. It was as if we had known each other for an eternity, and perhaps we did. The giggle came out. He patted my shoulder and I looked at his shoes once more. He patted my shoulder again and pointed. The light was coming from the tunnel. The broadcast said something aloud, but it was all just noise.

“My train is here,” he said as he stood up. He adjusted his raincoat and looked at me as he walked towards the stopping train. “Goodbye, friend.”

I was about to respond when the doors of the train opened. I watched him wave and I waved, and in my throat, the word, ‘wait’ got stuck. There were things left out there, on the bench where we sat, where he had forgotten the photograph of a cherry blossom. I held it and watched him in silence as the doors closed. Another nonsensical broadcast filled the empty station. I picked up the photograph and smiled. There were many things left unsaid, many words unspoken. Perhaps, when the train would come, I would meet him again.

At last, I picked up my backpack and glanced at the trailing backlights of the train then uttered, “Goodbye, friend.”

Written by Amr Abbas. 

Cover illustration by Amr Abbas. 


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