The long distance train sped through miles of suburbs surrounding downtown. Ever closer to the final destination. Greg was at the window, looking down at streets and rows of houses going by. Cars moving down there, people going by. Like they did every day. Nothing special at all with today.
Except today was special. Greg hadn’t been back here for years. 5 at least. No, it was closer to 6.
Last time hadn’t ended so well. That was the last time he saw Kim. As she stomped off, ending their meeting. Or was it him that made the irrevocable move to turn and leave? Either way, the other hadn’t done anything to close the gap.
Because it was too big for mending by then. It wasn’t, (strictly speaking and as he eventually, but much later, realized) that everything was fine and then there was this big explosion and that was it. You don’t go from being close and having a life together to being strangers overnight.
No, the falling apart brewed for a long time. Little things that didn’t connect. One after another. Until the fateful day when those all blew up. And Greg walked out of Kim’s life forever. Or did she walk out of his? He still wasn’t sure. Just that it happened.
He’d moved away. Far away. Rebooted his life. Moved on, as they say. Yet here he was, coming back to this city, to meet her again. He didn’t know what to expect. They’d reconnected online. Exchanged a few emails, messages. That sort of thing.
Agreed to meet again. Because somewhere deep inside, Greg still cared about Kim. Still felt that something had been broken that day that shouldn’t have been broken. That maybe there was a way forward.
He shrugged off all the thoughts as the train rounded a curve and there was the downtown area, visible up ahead. Wouldn’t be long now.
The train was actually a bit early coming in. When Greg figured that out, he realized that a part of him had secretly wished it would be late. If the train was late, he wouldn’t make the meeting on time. He’d be able to say “Hey, I got there eventually. But since the train was late, I missed you.” That would be safe. No actual face to face.
He could send her a letter, text, email. Whatever. The postal service or the great internet would be to blame. So much easier than face to face. Especially when you don’t know how that face to face will play out.
The train rocked passing through switches on the approach to its designated platform track. It was slowing down. No delaying now. Breaks were squealing. Then a final little jerk and the train stood still.
It was really tempting to just stay on the train, to go on to another station, anywhere, to keep going and not have to go down into the train station and face that meeting with her. He wasn’t even sure now what to say to her after all this time.
Already people were streaming out on the platform. He watched them through the window for a moment. Again, it hadn’t ended well last time. So what was he doing here, trying to meet again? Yet something compelled him. Plus the fact that this was the final destination of the train. He could remain in the train car, but soon a conductor would walk through and enlighten him that this was indeed the final destination. Time to get off. Out onto the platform.
So he got off. Stood on the platform. Big clock out there proclaimed that it was 17 minutes before the hour. 17 minutes before he was to meet her in the main concourse. They’d been clear and specific: In the main concourse, by the information sign. Because it had been a while. Maybe he wouldn’t recognize her.
He made his way along the platform towards the exit. On the other side of the platform a train was boarding, getting ready to depart for some unknown place. He fought back an urge to just hop on that train. Get in and leave.
He could always claim that something happened and he couldn’t make it. A whistle sounded. The train was about to leave. He still had the opportunity and then the doors closed. Slammed shut. Opportunity gone.
He moved towards the stairs down to the passageway that would take him into the main concourse. Just one among all the other people heading the same way.
Greg walked through the passage under the tracks to the main concourse. From a distance, as he got closer, he could see people moving around out there. This was decision time: He could walk right out into the concourse, over to the information sign and be exactly where they’d agreed to meet.
Or he could find a spot off to the side, under an overhang, where he’d be able to look out and she would most likely not see him. Because he’d be in the shadows.
He wasn’t sure why he even considered this. This wasn’t some spy movie. Where it’s all about tricking the other party. Or outwit assassins. He’d come all this way. Might as well do it. Let it turn out however it would turn out. And yet he felt like he needed to keep some options open. Keep the ability to back out. Keep the ability to just fade into the background. Make an escape.
To be sure, he had a scheduled departure for that evening. Late in the evening. All calculated to give him maximum time in town before journeying on. It seemed a good idea at the time.
Here he was, blending in with other waiting passengers in a small seating area, half-hidden under the mezzanine level, looking out at the concourse. Right there in the middle, brightly lit, was the information sign. He waited. Looked at his watch. Right on the nose. High noon. Not a sign of her. Couldn’t see anybody who looked even remotely like the Kim he remembered. Or anybody who looked like they were looking for somebody.
He realized of course that if she came by, there was the remote possibility that he wouldn’t recognize her from over here. Because several years. People change. Guess that’s why in the spy novels they all agree on what to wear to recognize each other. Flower in the button hole or carrying a newspaper in a certain way.
Lots of people came and went.
A woman stopped by the info sign, looking things up on her phone. She had her back turned to him. Could that be her? He had a sudden urge to go up there. Somehow walk casually by and steal a glance. Could be her. Maybe, possibly. She stood there for what seemed like an absolute eternity, focused on her phone.
He realized that he could grab his phone. Text something. Like: “I’m here.” Or maybe even: “Running late.” Surely if that was her up there, he would notice from her reaction that she just got a text message when he pressed send.
He decided against it. And put the phone back in this pocket. Even from the back, he really didn’t think it was her over there.
10 after. 11. 13. 17 after. He felt a growing realization of “She’s not coming.” She is just not coming. He’d been stood up. That had happened before. It was part of what caused the breakup in the first place.
He waited. And debated with himself how long to wait. Before he’d decide to leave. Would he stick around until the scheduled train tonight or would he hop on an earlier train going the right direction? Even if just going to the next stop down the line?
If he established that she wasn’t coming, he wouldn’t want to stay here. He wouldn’t want to walk around the city. Risk that hours from now he’d be on a random street and run into her.
Maybe she’d come, not seen him at the info sign and left. That was a possibility. Maybe it was a dumb idea to hang tight over here, really forcing the situation. Meanwhile she had to be the one stepping out, being very public. Very much in in the view, while he had the luxury of hiding in the shadows.
Greg pondered all the options. It was now 23 after. He put away the magazine he’d been sort of pretending to read. Pulled his gear together getting ready to go. Pretty clear she wasn’t coming now. As he stood up, with his items collected he looked over to the info sign one more time. There were new people there. One made him do a double take.
That was her.
He just saw her back. But it was enough. That was her. It’s funny how we can anticipate a meeting and be convinced that we won’t recognize the other person when we’ll finally stand face to face. Then we see them across a crowded room and know from the get-go this is the person I’m meeting. At that moment know, without a shadow of a doubt, you could run into them anywhere in the world and recognize them instantly.
Kim was right there. Almost half an hour late, but there. What would he do?
They’d reconnected. Decided to meet again. He wasn’t sure why or what he hoped to accomplish. Getting back together seemed totally out of the realm of possible. And he wasn’t sure he really wanted to. At one point, yes, but time had gone by. To say he was sorry? Possibly. Then what?
Meeting up had seemed like a good idea. Now that he was here, in the train station and she was over there, just yards away, not so much. Suddenly he saw all the things that could go wrong. They’d talk. Then there’d be a scene. It was inevitable. Something old would come up. The entire concourse would watch in horror. Judgment. In the end, they’d each stomp away in different directions. Hurt again.
Let’s not go there.
Of course, it could turn out to be a good meeting. A chance to reconnect, say “I’m sorry”, spend a bit of time together and eventually part as friends. But was that likely? Probably not.
He could still slip away. Retreat in among the other passengers waiting over on this side of the room and fade into the woodwork. Go up on a platform and just hang out there until he could get on a train.
For the first time, he realized that he really didn’t want to face a meeting. He stayed exactly where he was a good 5 minutes. 10 minutes. She was still there. Hanging out. Looking around. For one split second he was sure she’d seen him. And would come heading this way. He started to move forward.
Then he watched her eyes move and scan the rest of the room. Having scanned that side of the room, she turned her back toward where he was standing. Now she was talking with somebody up there.
He replayed in his mind how things had gone the last time they met. She didn’t want to see him then either. He’d made the effort then to meet to try to patch up. To explain. To rebuild their relationship.
And it blew up spectacularly. He’d never been so happy to walk out of a situation as when he was able to move to another city, new job, new friends. The move had been good. He’d been very lost and he’d found his way. He was doing well now. Moving forward with his life.
So why cross the space of the open room and go over and even for just an afternoon reopen what had been a painful situation?
He watched the scene over there. Kim was talking to a woman. Looked like maybe the woman had come up to ask for something. Whatever. Now the women seemed locked in an intense exchange. Of course he couldn’t hear any of what was said. But there were lots of gestures. It reminded him that Kim always talked as much with her hands as with her mouth. And going by the energetic gestures, things over there were getting a bit agitated.
Greg stood next to a group of seats he’d been sitting in a few minutes earlier. A young couple came by and quietly asked if the seats were taken. He looked at them. Seemed like a delightful young couple. Out on a trip, having a great time. He looked at the seats. And indicated to the couple that they could have the seats.
Walking slowly in the passenger area under the mezzanine, Greg looked out at the info stand in the middle of the concourse.
Kim was still talking to the woman over there. Things seemed less animated than a few minutes ago.
Then he turned around and walked through the seating area, circling along the wall towards the passage to the tracks. Once in there, he picked a random track and went up on the platform. Walked as far out as there were benches. Sat down with his bag next to him. Pulled out a notebook and started writing a note.
Simple note. Though nothing really is simple. He rewrote it several times. He was writing it here and now, but he wouldn’t mail it until tomorrow or the day after. In another place. Didn’t want the postmark to indicate anything other than that he’d never been in town.
The note started with a few words about a mixup with trains. That he didn’t make it in today. He thought about saying “I’m sorry”, but he wasn’t really. Maybe this was best after all. Why open up the old mess again? By meeting face to face. He still had a few good memories. Keep it that way.
He thought about offering maybe another time. But instead he just added on:
“As I’ve been stuck on a detour today, with all this, I have been thinking. I’m just not sure that there would be any point to try to reconnect in person after all this time. I’m sure you’ve changed and moved on. I know I have.
There were, back in the day, good reasons for going our separate ways and those are probably best left where they are. Truly wish you the best.”
He pondered for some kind of greeting to put under there. In the end he just signed his name and shoved the sheet of paper into an envelope.
There was an urge to go back down to the main concourse. To again take a peek from the shadows. He’d decided to not talk to her. To just leave. Yet the prospect of one last look was tempting. She might still be there.
How long would she wait around? If she was still there, would she see him this time. Then explaining would be all that much harder. Of course, he could blame it on trains running late. Or something. But still …
It would be so awkward. A Beatles song played through his mind. Let it be. Now he couldn’t even recall the the context of the song that prompted the “let it be”, but it seemed fitting.
Greg walked back along the platform. There was a train going in the right direction. He got on. Found a seat. On the side away from the platform. Pulled out his paper and pretended to read. After a while the loudspeaker out there droned on. Then a whistle. Doors slamming. Almost imperceptibly at first, the train started rolling.
There were rail yards passing by outside the window. Then it was streets and rows of houses down there, below the embankment the train tracks were on. Cars moving. People going to and fro.
Greg leaned back in his seat, head resting against the cool glass of the window. The world outside was a blur to him. He’d come this far. And left. Without meeting her. Life would go on. But he wasn’t coming back.
The whooshing of the train echoed the song Let it be, Let it be.
2 thoughts on “Then I saw your face”
That’s sad that he decided not to meet her.
A reconnection will be impossible I suppose. But talking to each other is a chance for a friendship.
I would love to meet him again.
Yes, it’s a story about meeting that doesn’t have a happy ending. I chose that ending because it’s a very possible scenario. Even though Greg has invested in making the trip, there’s always the real possibility that at the deciding moment he will not be able to follow through with the plan.
Because sometimes a person’s limiting beliefs are stronger than their ability to go forward into a situation where they don’t know how it will turn out.
This short story is part of a series of short stories about meetings between people that I’m working on. Future stories will explore a variety of scenarios and settings.
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