I remember it was cloudy that day, and it felt like it would later rain. And I remember leaving late, having to walk through swarms of children making their reluctant way to school, and eventually arriving at the train station just before eight-thirty.
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When the packed train arrived I knew there was little chance of getting a seat. I pushed my way in, and stood near the door, thinking I could at least gaze at the passing scenery if reading proved too difficult.
The journey passed uneventfully. I read only a few pages, and spent most of the time watching countryside dissolve slowly into concrete and brick. But when I was absently gazing at the windows of the passing houses and apartments, I noticed in one of them a woman who sat motionless staring right back at me.
Even now the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end when I think of her sat there. It was that unmistakeable feeling of guilt, like getting caught doing something you know is wrong. I had invaded her private moment, and she had caught me at it. But I couldn’t turn my eyes away. It was as if she had captured me, and I was helpless. So I kept on staring at her staring back at me.
She sat right in front of the window, her knees almost touching the glass. The train was so close that I could make out the features of her face; the lines around her eyes, the high cheekbones accentuated in the morning light, her long brown hair. I remember thinking that she must be able to feel every vibration of the heavy train as it passed by, that the metallic thump of wheel on track must echo into every corner of her room and swallow her up.
While time stood still, I stared at her. I still can’t remember what she wore, or any details of her room. But I can picture her face in my mind as clear as those moments that I looked upon it.
Then, as she started to disappear from view, she waved at me. I raised my hand and pressed my face up close to the humming glass and saw, as she slipped away, a perfect smile spread across her face.
I kept my face pressed on the glass for the rest of the journey. My only thoughts were of her and the love I felt she had expressed in her radiant smile. For some reason, I felt sure that I knew her.
I was too distracted to work. Each time I tried to concentrate, my thoughts moved to her. By the end of the day I knew it was no good, I had to find her. Who was she? And why did I feel as if I knew her? I left early, determined to find answers.
I soon realised I had no idea where she lived. Having spent the whole time staring at her, I had not taken notice of where her apartment was. All I knew for sure was that it lay next to the rail track. So I climbed on board the next train and watched as the endless tower blocks passed by. It didn’t take long to realise the enormity of the task that lay before me.
As I moved from town to countryside, I knew I had missed her, so I disembarked and waited for the return train. This time I watched more carefully, feeling sure I had lost concentration for that crucial moment that her apartment passed by.
By the fifth journey I knew it was time to give up. It was dark, and hunger pains were consuming me. So I turned homeward, hoping tomorrow would bring better luck.
But the next day brought no more luck than the last. I took the same train as before but she didn’t appear at any window. But I did manage to narrow down the area where I believed she lived, so when I stepped off the train, I made my way to where I felt sure I would find her.
I walked the streets that lined the railway, believing that each face I saw would be her. But it was all to no avail. I ate at a nearby café and continued for the rest of the day to wander back and forth, hoping the next person to appear from around a corner, or through a darkened doorway, would be her.
When dusk came and I still hadn’t found her, I made my way home, miserable and tired. I knew I was becoming obsessed with a woman that I had seen for merely a few seconds, but I also knew that I couldn’t rest until I had found her. I felt as though I were still caught in her gaze.
Each day I came back, making feeble excuses to my employers that were paper-thin. But I didn’t care. It was only the thought of finding her that entered my mind; everything else I discounted. But each day brought the same result as the previous. If she was there, where I knew she must be, then she must be hiding. But as hard as I tried, I could not find her.
I gave up eventually. I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life looking for someone that seemed unwilling to be found. So after a week of fruitless searching, I forced myself to abandon my wanderings and return to normality. I was being stupid, I told myself.
Monday came and, finding it hard to resist, I made my way to the station late as I had done that first morning. I felt relaxed, and looked forward to reading the book I had neglected. The train arrived and I climbed on board. I considered finding a seat, but then decided to stand at the window for one last time. The train set off, and I watched the all too familiar sights roll past me.
As the train approached its terminus I turned my face from the outside world. I was ready to forget the last week, ready to continue my life. But as I turned, there in front of me sat the one person I had spent so much time and effort looking for. And on her face was the same smile that had captured me that previous week. I stopped dead, unable to speak. She stood and walked over to me.
“I thought you’d never turn around,” she said. “I was beginning to think you spent all of your time locked inside yourself.”
“I think, perhaps, I do.”
“I’ve been waiting for you on this train every morning since I saw you. I thought I'd never find you again.”
“That’s because I’ve been walking the streets of your neighbourhood looking for you.”
She laughed. “We sometimes look too hard for things. We should sometimes stop looking and wait for those things we seek to come to us.”
The doors of the train opened and we exited, making our way to the nearest café. We bought hot drinks and took seats near the window.
“I feel that I know you,” I said, stirring my milky tea.
“You should. You do.”
“Why? Tell me, and I think I’ll remember.”
She paused, her head bowed, looking at the white flecks floating on the surface of her coffee. When she raised her eyes and looked at me I knew what she was about to say. The memories came flooding back with each word she spoke.
“I am your sister,” she said. “We were separated when we were young. You were only three years old, and I five. Our parents died in a car accident, and we were placed in care. For some reason or other we were sent to different families. And we each grew up with a part of us missing.”
And then I was back in our garden all those years ago, sat on the top of the rusting slide. I saw the policeman talking to my sister, and heard her screams that passed through me, leaving me hollow. Then I saw her on the side of the road, fading into the distance, as I watched from the rear of a car, hot with tears and confusion. It all made sense, that empty feeling I had carried my whole life, and my obsession with finding her.
I reached out and held her hand.
I remember we spent hours talking in that café, catching up on each other’s lives. It felt so good to be able to talk to someone without barriers. It was something that I had never experienced before, and it felt liberating.
And now? Now I am happy. I still can’t explain how we came to see each other for those few seconds. I guess that we have a bond with each other that was just too strong to break, and it had taken until that moment to snap us back together.