Most people didn’t notice the man as he sat is his seat near the back of the train. Looking for a seat, they would walk past him, asking someone else if there weren’t two seats available. He was satisfied with this, sitting back against the chair, legs extended, black jacket half undone. He was satisfied because there wasn’t fear or aversion, simply oblivion, as if he did not quite exist and yet the seats were somehow occupied. This was true.
Once in a while, the train would fill completely and someone would sit next to him. A few hours later these people would get off the train, feeling slightly tired. A faint, very odd, smell might linger for days. It was a bit like cinnamon and a bit like cotton candy, but more it smelled of earth and decay.
Although few people noticed the man, he noticed everything. He noticed the sound of the train running along the tracks and every bend or change of speed. He noticed the old couple sitting near the front of the car, dozing the whole trip. He noticed the youth traveling home from school for the year, tired but excited, talking loudly in groups as they munched on chips and carrot sticks. He noticed the people traveling on their own, keeping their bags close by, wearing headphones or reading.
The Watcher noticed the family, two young parents and two young boys. The littlest boy was always talking, looking out the window, twisting about in his chair and asking question after question. The older boy was about eight and was very quiet. When the man saw the boy, he shivered. That boy saw him, and his gaze crackled through the railway car. The Watcher turned away, examining the clouds curling across the sky.
There was a poetry to watching. The man watched for moments, perfect moments, when things could be changed, mended or reversed. Two friends had gotten into a fight and tension was rising. The past was being dragged up in pails, and poured about the car in torrents of words. Everything was building and was almost ready to burst – this time, beyond repair. It was a perfect moment. So, suddenly the train slowed and they caught sight of two geese, running around ridiculously, chasing each other, flying for a few seconds before flopping to the ground again. The friends couldn’t help laughing and when they did they remembered how much they really cared about one another. The Watcher smiled and the train regained speed. The moment passed. Suddenly, he stopped smiling. The boy was still watching him, eyes dark and serious.
The Watcher did not have a lot of time to think about the boy because the train pulled into a station, and a woman got on the car. The man shivered. She scared him. Her eyes were dark and sharp and he could feel everything slipping away. Her nails were long and red, matching her jacket and shining as they wrapped about her black clutch bag. If she sat down beside him, he would lose everything. And when he had there would be nothing left, nothing even to regain.
She walked closer, her black heels digging into the worn carpeting. As she smiled, her teeth gleamed between her lips, shining unnaturally white. The moment was perfect. All he could hear was his hear pounding. She was almost at his seat. The Watcher couldn’t move. There was nowhere to go. Nothing to do.
Her hair swung as she turned toward him. It seemed to reflect darkness rather than the lights of the train. Then, he felt a tug on his shirt.
“You promised you would play cards with me,” the boy whined, slipping into the seat beside him. “You promised.”
The woman kept walking, her pause almost unnoticeable.
The promise hung unspoken in the air, but the Watcher smiled. The moment was gone and next time he would be better prepared. He must. Although he was one of many, the threat was increasing, and parts of the land crumbled invisibly beyond their control. He had to be prepared. Every perfect moment held possibility – beauty and danger.
The Watcher looked down at the boy and smiled. The boy returned his gaze, smelling the strangely familiar scent of cedar bark and overripe apples. The boy smiled and handed him the cards.