Absolutely no reason for writing this. I just did. And those are the best times, aren’t they?
I didn’t know what he was writing. He had his laptop balanced precariously on his knees and he was typing quickly. When I sat down he didn’t look up, and as much as I tried not to look at him, it was difficult. He was old, really old, but he had the type of face that still looked young and innocent despite it all. He wore a faded black suit over the top of a red sweater, and his grey hair was neatly parted. His square glasses reflected the screen of his laptop and behind them I could see his bright eyes transfixed.
I felt stupid for staring so long and tried to make it seem like I had just been looking out the window. I watched fields go by, dulled by the stormy sky, and listened to the sound of the old man’s keyboard. He never faltered and the steady sound made me sleepy.
When my eyes started to droop I knew I needed to do something to keep me awake. That was when I initiated a conversation, a really strange conversation.
He didn’t answer back. His typing didn’t even slow down.
“Sorry if this is a bit nosey, but what are you writing?”
Again his typing continued, but this time he replied. In a warm but worn voice he said,
“I don’t think it would be wise for you to know.”
Huh? I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. I just awkwardly nodded and looked down at the leather seats as if they were the most interesting thing I’d seen all day. I shouldn’t have said anything. That was a ridiculous thing to say.
Although it probably should have, his response didn’t offend me. He didn’t say it harshly. He sounded, what was it, courteous? No, cautionary. He came across so peculiarly nice.
The typing continued. I waited for the tension to diffuse—tension on my behalf, as the old man continued writing with no regard for my intrusion of his privacy. I tried to distract myself until I felt comfortable again. I looked around at the other passengers. There was a mother looking at her napping son in relief. There was a businessman who would occasionally check his phone, furiously type, and then return to looking longingly out the window. There was an old women chatting vigorously with a teenage boy beside her, and the boy looked straight on and nodded occasionally.
Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the old man on his laptop. I felt the glare of the screen pulling me in, whispering in my ear to look at it. I didn’t know if I was just going crazy because of the travelling or if I was going actual crazy. Even so, I realised that this train ride was going to get a whole lot more uncomfortable if I didn’t find out what he was typing.
It was as if he knew. I thought I was being subtle, but every time I leaned slightly towards the window or pretended to stretch, it was like he sensed my eyes searching for the words. He would angle his laptop away from me and continue typing; I even saw a small smirk every time it happened. And every time he deflected my attempts I realised how strange I was being. Why did I care?
I cared because, after convincing myself that I didn’t care at all, the typing became the loudest thing in the compartment. Ever tap resonated within my skull. Every other sound dulled and the typing was the only thing left to listen to.
I looked at his hands on the keyboard to try and figure out what he was typing, while he was typing it. He tapped the letters so fast that I could hardly decipher a word. I did see him type ‘looking’ and ‘she’, but I could have easily been projecting my madness onto the keyboard and forming letters out of thin air.
I resigned myself to madness when I saw him type ‘crying’, as not a minute later the little boy a few seats up burst into tears. His mother looked agitated while trying to calm his sudden outburst. I looked at the old man by my side and saw his mouth twitch into a grin.
And then that was it. The train stopped, and I had to leave. I hesitated. I felt so attached to my seat next to that mysterious old man and his keyboard. I thought I’d never find out what he was typing, and at the time, that made me immensely sad. Of course in time I forgot all about it. From time to time there are certain things that get into your mind and inhabit it, but after a while you forget it even existed.
I didn’t think of the old man on the train again until I received a package. There was no return address. It looked like a manuscript for a really long book. It was held together by a massive clip and on the cover was my name typed crisply in black ink. I turned to the first page, which begun,
“She is born on April 24th 1986,”
My birth date, although not difficult to come by, looked strange on the page. And there was more writing. There were descriptions of my parents, about the auburn colour of my mother’s hair and the way my father’s smile contrasted the tears in his eyes when he saw me for the first time. All of it was written as if it were simultaneously happening. I held the story of my life in my hands and it was heavy with accuracies. Every time I turned a page I became more and more confused, because everything was so right.
I could see a note sticking out of the pile of paper just under the halfway point and I skipped forward to read what it said. Written in scratchy and unpractised handwriting was a note that said,
“From your travel companion: Sorry for being so conspicuous.”
Understanding is a funny thing. Sometimes you get it straight away and sometimes it takes a while, but either way it feels brilliant. As I read the chapter the note was attached to it took me a while to understand. But with one sentence my stomach dropped and I felt faint. With one sentence I felt incredibly light.
“She is looking at me trying to decipher what I am typing, trying to take a peek back at her life before it is done,”
I laughed. I laughed so much tears welled up in my eyes and my stomach started hurting. I don’t know when I stopped laughing, it felt like an eternity. All I know is that when I stopped I closed the manuscript, intent on leaving it to gather dust. I didn’t feel like looking at the ending.