“Is it safe to leave my luggage in the stack like that?”
“Sorry?” he yanked the nearest earpiece to her out of his left ear and blinked open his eyes.
“I left my suitcase there with the other luggage. Is it normally safe?” Her hand gestured to the front of the compartment.
“…I never thought about that. People just do it assuming it is safe, I suppose. Then yes… yes.. I suppose it’s safe.” He looked a bit startled.
Tracy kept staring at the pile of suitcases that just got even taller from the last stop.
“Is it your first time on the train?”
“First time with a suitcase.” Tracy smiled nervously.
“Oh… Don’t worry. Just keep an eye on it once in a while.” He smiled and resumed his original position. Eyes closed with some sort of classical music plugged straight into his head.
They sat side by side for almost an hour without allowing any parts of their bodies to invade each other’s space. Tracy was careful with her soft coughs that may disturb her seating companion’s well-crafted peace. Manners lies in the little details, so she had observed. The space also gave her a wide breadth to take mental notes of her seat companion. It looked like he was living deep inside a thundering melodious piece. The ever slight head lull noticed. She was not sure. He could just be dozing off.
He suddenly opened his eyes, took out both of his earpieces and turned his head toward Tracy, who happened to be counting the amount of distinct freckles adorning his otherwise clear complexion.
Tracy’s own complexion turned to beet red instantly. And the stranger smiled graciously through his eyes while his lips started making distinct shapes.
“Are you still keeping an eye at your suitcase?”
“Yes.” Tracy could look nowhere else but her fully bitten fingernails neatly folded on her lap. “It’s still there.”
“Is it your first time going to London, too?”
“Second. The first time …” Tracy suddenly wondered if he cared about her first time in London. She never could figure out whether people want to listen, talk or both.
“The first time?” Apparently he’s the kind that listens.
“The first time was a year ago when I was smuggled in from Cambodia.” Tracy said with a straight face.
“Are you serious?” the guy ‘s eyes flared a bit and you could tell that he’s feeling a bit guilty for thinking that he finally had some interesting story to tell from his mundane travels crisscrossing the country.
“No. Not really..” Tracy smiled and her eyes laughed with him, once he gets over the initial shock that is. “I’m not from Cambodia and I came to London the first time on my own free will under this student visa. I went by plane though.”
“Good Lord. What would you say to a human trafficking victim anyway?” And you could definitely see him taking mental notes that he’d pose that very question instead to his Saturday night dinner companions.
“Don’t know. Perhaps introduce yourself and assure them you’re not a smuggler? People call me Tracy by the way.” her eyes started to twinkle a bit.
“Oh yeah. Pardon me. I’m Aaron. I am not a smuggler of any kind. I do not even own any pirated CDs. I mostly download… I am in the romance business. But I don’t think that’s a crime. Yet.” Right hand extended. He’s getting quite generous with the smile now that they have a name to call one another.
Palm meets palm. Both soft and moisturized well. Both wishes the human touch stayed a second longer, as human tends to wish.
“Oh romance? What sort of services do you offer?” The sparkles in her eyes got brighter a tad.
“The online sort. I have me five chickuns and forty percent cut goes to me. All set.” He did the silent ‘t’ just for some additional hilarity.
“You joking.” She drawn her o in joking into a long ‘ou’ sound that she had come to adore prononucing.
“Yea, I am. Do I look much like a pimp to you? Can you imagine me dressed up in some sparkly suits and diamond studded sticks?” He actually won’t look that sleazy in them, Tracy thinks. “I have this dating website. UKdatingforbetterorworse.com” And next a pamphlet magically appears that Tracy then would study religiously.
“There will be six tables of ten going on in three different restaurants tonight. Three tables for heterosexual, one table for bi and one table each for lesbians and gays. Should be excellent time.”
“Wah. How are you going to be in three different places at once!”
“I don’t sit with them anymore. I’ll pop up for a bit at each restaurants making sure they are all well lubricated and make sure everyone is who they say they are. You can’t be too careful these days.”
“You had people send a double body for this blind date of ten?”
“Well. You see, a place in my tables is hard to come by. You’ll have to sign up, fill forms, email ID copies, short Skype interview with me and then passed on to one of my colleagues and all that to make sure people do get along when they end up in my table. They could easily make quick bucks to sell their spot. It’s a pretty intricate deal.” This Aaron guy seemed to enjoy regaling his intricacies.
“Sounds dreadful.” Tracy’s eyes looking right at the beaming guy. She’s a pro at crushing people like that.
“Of what?” A singsong that betrayed his well camouflaged NorthEast accent for the first time. This time the silent ‘t’ was not for show.
“That thing you do, right there. Doing laborious admin work for people desperate enough to go online with the hope of finding their other half. Talking to people who still believes there’s someone out there made just for them. And somehow managed to get on your database as well to spam for life with your new offerings of latest and greatest available in the meat market.”
Aaron’s jaw dropped slightly. His mind yelled “Are you shitting me?” and some other part of his screams “Finally a woman who’s got some sense knocked into her head!” Talking to hundreds of romance hopefuls tend to have that conflicting effects in you, it seems.
Eyes so afraid to betray his thoughts, they have nowhere to look but straight at Tracy’s little tiny almost non-existent nose.
“You have a very small nose. Very cute” The master of awkward moment. One tends to develop that skill when spending many dinners with first blind-daters.
“Too small to have stayed in your memory bank of faces, it seems?” Tracy lips slightly curves upward.
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes. I did. Six months back, cozy little Japanese restaurant…”
“Awful rain, disastrous evening, Newcastle. That’s the only time I’ve ever set it up in a Japanese restaurant for some reason. This is crazy.” Aaron’s eyes started to dance a little.
“Disastrous indeed. Everyone came late. Mostly drenched. I almost didn’t make it. Food was cold”
They jumped on the memory wagon and decided to stay a little.
“It was sushi! It’s supposed to be cold! I think I left before I ever saw you in real life. I had two other tables I needed to check on. None of them were on time. Some didn’t even make it out that night! Tell me that night ended okay for you lot. Any feedback? Did you give up on the site? All the failed ones tend to slink of into the distance while the success stories gave me courtesy emails.”
“Well. As I said. The food was cold. We were drenched. No one was in the mood to do the how-do-you-dance.” Tracy went on for a bit with her rants. And not until she saw that Aaron’s eyes almost fell out of his sockets, would she switch the tune of her song. “… but something good did come out of it.”
“HALLELUJAH!” Aaron almost jumped off his seat. “This coming from an atheist, mind you.”
“Even atheist likes the odd sappy story. Ha.” Aaron eyes pleaded patiently. “As no one was in the mood for chit-chats, we all jumped at the biggest elephants in the pack. Why no one was attached at such age, what went wrong with past relationships, what they really, really, really want out of a spouse. All that straight shooters with none of the chasers. We What-the-hell-it to the end of the night and I’ve never known nine people so well in such a short period of time.”
“I live for stories like this. That’s lovely to hear.” Aaron was elated and crushed at the same time. Wondering whether he’d prefer this strange girl to be the pessimistic little gremlin that she let slipped earlier? Misery loves company even just for the night, no?
“Ah well. I didn’t get what I came for but I did get me a lad asking me for a second date.”
“Beg of course. Please tell me you made him beg for it.” He’s playful like that.
“You’re enjoying this too much. Well anyway. he moved to London last month. Me and my life that’s packed neatly in that suitcase” a nod to the suitcase pile of destruction at front, “will start squatting at his place starting tonight.” Tracy sighs. “It’s bloody good that site you got going if you get past the cheesy taglines and promises. You enjoy it much, I suppose?”
Some sort of Godly voice started talking through the ceiling to the earthlings below that they’re approaching the last stop.
“Yeah. Yeah. Got it’s payoff I suppose. It’s superb delight when things like this do happen and very much depressing when all they want is the fastest delivery on their pre-ordered self-tailored spouses. I don’t get to date on the weekends myself and I haven’t had the guts to date my own customer. With how fast words spread these days, don’t have the heart to risk it, I’d say.” He seems to have been muddling with that thought for a while now.
Tracy waits patiently as the pondering seems to crystallize in its own steady pace.
“Perhaps one of these days. The right woman would show up and I’d be able to go all or nothing.” He glanced back at her, eyes as honest as they could be. “I’m just hoping I’ll know the moment. And some bollocks to do it. I need to buy me some bollocks that’s what I need.”
Another smile curls upward from Tracy’s lips. This time Aaron noticed it and wondered why it felt so familiar.
The train came to a stop. People started standing. Tracy looked out of the window and stared at her new life beckoning softly. Aaron tugged her elbow. “You should take care that suitcase of yours before some chavs run with it.” He smiles warmly.
And as they both slowly stood up and walked along the aisle, he asked one thing that he thought he misheard. “Why you said you didn’t get what you were coming for? that dinner?” He helped her heaved the well-worn suitcase and hauled it outside the train.
They stood at the platform. She was looking up, only realizing how tall he was to her. And he looked down, never quite realized how petite she was until now.
“I didn’t have the chance to meet who I came for.” And with that she stood on her leather protected tippy toes, leaning forward against her humongous suitcase and hoist herself up to give him a soft peck on his left cheek.
“Until now that is.”