"A Friendly Conversation" - Lorna Cagann

The afternoon train rattled down the tracks as the rain drenched the earth. As the locomotive crawled to a stop at each station, I watched as soggy and sad pedestrians shivered in their soaked clothing, dismayed that their umbrellas couldn’t keep them dry, smiling in relief at the thought of refuge in the warm cars.

Being a Thursday afternoon during rush hour, seats were sparse. And because we were already three stops from the beginning of the line, not many were getting up to dash to their automobiles waiting in the lots of the station closest to their homes. I sat on the upper level where all the seats were strategically placed so that those without a companion could sit without the awkwardness of sharing a bench with a stranger. Small talk was never really my thing.

As the train stopped at the fifth station, oncoming passengers started coming up to the second floor. I looked around to see where they were possibly going to sit. But not a single seat was open. I looked down below and saw that the standing room was packed. I sighed, knowing that my personal bubble of space was about to be intruded upon. I leaned against the window and stared at the passing bleak landscape as the train bumbled along, the passenger next to me swaying into me as the car rattled over the tracks.

A particularly large bump in the tracks sent him into my lap. I began to glare into his eyes, but the deep brown color immediately let me forgive him as he apologized with a measly “Sorry.”

I continued to stare at him without really noticing what I was doing. He wasn’t anything special: his dark brown hair was cut short and dripped into his face. A dark beard was beginning to appear in the form of stubble. And those eyes. He cracked a small smile that sent me back to reality and I automatically replied, “It’s okay” and quickly turned away, embarrassed that I had stared at his face for so long.

After a few minutes, I decided to find his face in the reflection cast in the window only to see those brown eyes looking into mine. The way he looked at me was almost as if he wanted to tell me something.

“You know, robots will cry one day,” is what he had to say after what seemed like forever. I stared at him through the reflection, the puzzled look on my face visible in my peripheral vision. “Your book,” he added, “They’ll realize all they have done and bawl.”

I looked down into my lap at the book in my lap. I had forgotten I even brought it. After distractedly trying to read the first few pages when I initially sat down, I gave up. It was a book by a local author about a future dystopian culture ruled by robots and computers. The metallic cover glistened in the dim lighting. I looked back at him.

“But robots do not have eyes,” I told him.

He exhaled heavily before responding, “Well, at least not like us two,” and he looked away. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I racked my brain for something else to say as I watched a small drop of water travel down the side of his face, but nothing came to mind.

Painfully, the minutes passed as I sat open-mouthed, wanting desperately to say something, anything. The rain slowed down and soon we rolled down a valley and into a town immersed in a heavy fog. He turned his eyes back onto mine and wet his lips before saying, “Actually, you are right. How could they possible cry without tear ducts? And who would actually design a robot with such a useless function?” I continued to stare at his reflection as he smiled back at me. I watched as he gave my shoulder a light pat before turning away and wiggling his way through the crowded train car. I hadn’t even noticed the train had stopped.

I sat bewildered, wondering what had just happened, who I had just met. Suddenly, a loud, crackly voice bellowed from the speaker each car was equipped with, “Last call for Howerstown. Next stop will be Zenda.”

I bolted out of my seat. I had to catch up to him. I had to know his name. Hurriedly, I shoved my way through the standing riders, ignoring their curses as I squeezed through, avoiding their narrow glances. The conductor was beginning to close the door.

“Wait!” I shouted, “This is my stop too. I’m getting off at Howerstown. I wasn’t paying attention and I–” I didn’t know what I was trying to say.

The conductor glared at me before rolling his eyes and opened the door the rest of the way. “Well, pay more attention next time. You’re lucky I’m one of the nice ones. “

I leapt through the door and into the fog. I could hardly see three feet. I never saw which way he went. Unsure of what to do, I decided to simply sprint into the low cloud. All I wanted was his name. And I disappeared.

Lorna Cagann is a Sophomore English Major and Business school hopeful.