by Lae-Ella Sinniah
He’s only a metre away from me. Just sitting there. I know men like him. He’s not very well kept. His misbehaving hair sticks out and hangs scraggly around his hungry looking eyes. What is it with men these days? Does he not own a hairbrush? The stranger shuffles around on the bench, stretching his legs out. Making me nervous. He moves a little closer. I scrunch my leather bag for comfort, playing with the tassels to distract myself from his uneasy presence. I know men like him. With their cheap arrogance and wanting gaze. Believing that the world is there to serve them, to satisfy their wants and desires. I wonder where the bus is? Maybe I should just get a taxi…
She’s only a metre away. I can smell her generously applied perfume from where I sit. God, I love that smell. It reminds me of visits to my grandma’s house as a kid. She would suffocate me in her big hugs and kiss me all over saying I was her favourite grandchild. It made me feel special, although I knew she said that to all her grandchildren. The heat of the day is beginning to irritate me. I shuffle around in my seat, moving over slightly and stretching my stiff legs after an epic day of work. Can’t wait to get home and watch some telly. The stranger sitting next to me looks tired too. Wonder what she did today. She’s clutching her handbag with a fierce look plastered on her furrowed brow, lips taut and fingers fidgeting aimlessly with the tassels on her handbag. Some people really need to loosen up. What does she think I’m going to do? Mug her? Maybe I should talk to her. Where’s the bus?
I can feel him watching me. He turns his head slightly to the left, his eyes inspecting me. Like a wild animal sizing up its prey before pouncing. Maybe I should call someone. Yes, that’s a good idea. I rummage for my phone. Nope, that’s not it. Oh no, where is it? I really need to do something about this bag. Half the stuff in here is just rubbish anyway. Should get that sorted out. Where is my phone?! I sip in a sharp breath. The stranger beside me fades away and panic takes his place. Beads of sweat begin to form on my upper lip. Heart pounding, I sit very still and wait.
I watch her as she clatters around looking for something in her handbag. My curiosity grows stronger the more flustered she becomes. She sure is something, ay. She seems cool enough, but she needs to chill. She’s really looking for something. I wonder what? I guess everyone is always searching for something these days. I chuckle to myself, bemused by my sudden wisdom. I can see the rapid rise and fall of her chest, although the stranger beside me sits very still, eyes fixed on something far off in the distance, as if willing the bus to come faster with her mind. On the bench between us, I see an old mobile. The kind that still has buttons. I guess that’s what she’s looking for, huh.
The stranger beside me taps me on the shoulder. I jump! Finding it hard to breathe, I turn to him, every muscle tensed, ready to run… or scream. He smiles at me. What does he want? He reaches out with a steady hand and passes me my phone. Is this yours? He asks in a deep, gentle voice. He sounds just like my brother. I know I should say something but the surprise sticks to the back of my throat, blocking words from forming. I snatch the phone from him, turn and leave. The bus welcomes me with a comforting splutter and hiss of its engine. Sitting comfortably at the front of the bus, I glance out the window. I see the stranger who once sat beside me as he continues to wait patiently for his bus. My heart beat steadies as the distance between us grows. Relieved to be heading home, I make a mental note to sort out all the junk in my handbag. Then I sink safely into my seat and close my eyes.
She doesn’t smile back. She doesn’t say thank you. She just reaches out with her small shaking hand and takes the phone from me. She’s scared. Of what? I have to admit I’ve been looking a bit rough lately. Maybe I’ve scared her with my lazy eye. I’ve always found that kinda weird. But I can see the fear in her, it oozes out of her small fragile body. She opens her mouth as if to say something, then changes her mind and walks stiffly away. Confused, I watch as the bus swallows her up and steals her away. I wonder what her problem was? I shrug my shoulders and shake my head. Hope I get home in time for the footy game.
by Eden Shoo
Your iridescent body glows through the cracks formed by cereal boxes. Soft elements of you are framed, like windows of a multi-storied building, each pane telling another secret. My favourite sliver is embraced by Sultana Bran and Crunchy Nut. It is here that I can admire the most vulnerable part of your body – the element of you that is most dangerous to me.
Flashes of moments, of faces, are painted across your iris. I am vigilant that we don’t connect eyes. It is only then that reality eats the dream.
I chase the sliver of you downwards.
Your lips, the love cushions of your face, juicy with lust and desire. I caress your lips with my eyes, Aurora. Wishing, yearning for them to scream my name.
You move. I follow.
Our connection started with a smile. 217 days ago. You came to me. Asked whether I needed assistance. Since that day I have spent over $764 here. I only come on the days when you’re working, but you will never know this.
In this sterile box, our bodies are drowned by insufferable music – we are all joined through this agony that we try to ignore. But without knowing it, Aurora, you make the unbearable very bearable.
Thanks to you, I have recently started referring to my house as my home. Over the time I have been seeing you, you have filled many of my emptinesses. I used to return home from the outside world to be greeted by arthritic floorboards and the faint smell of Cat Stevens, my departed tabby. My days would pass slumped and staring out the window, sharing the couch with the companionless hairs from my cat who had died two years prior. No sadness, just emptiness.
But now there’s you. There’s us.
There’s a necessary force separating us – the physical and emotional barriers that distance us from each other. I long for you as if I miss you. But at the same time, I am scared to want more than what I already have. I know you can’t be as perfect as what I have made you to be.
I’ve spent weeks and days on you. Constructing you, engraving you, making you. Time devoted to shaping a beauty with only perfect imperfections. You don’t know it, but in some ways I’ve recreated who you really are into what I want you to be.
Aurora, you can’t seem to stand still. I am captivated by your short periods of stillness. These moments are when I can align you precisely, as though I’m framing sections of an artwork. If I was to span the time we spend together over a decade, your periods of motionlessness would equate to mere seconds.
I sigh, as the air you stir when you walk perfumes my skin. This is the closest thing to physical contact we share. I can almost trace your movements blindly. I move into the correlating aisle to yours.
Through a canopy of detergent, I watch your reflected beauty in glass doors that encapsulate the frozen fruit. In the slivers where I see the vignette of my reflection next to yours, I see us together. I want this image of you and me to be branded in my mind.
My time with you is almost over for today. Maybe I can stay longer, pretending to be occupied as you clean the bacteria-ridden floors. Instead of chasing your side profile, I might treat myself by standing at the end of your aisle. But not too close, always keeping a safe distance.
A male staff member approaches me, tells me that it’s closing time.
I fumble to find a lie that justifies why I need to stay a little longer.
I hate to leave you prematurely.
But I know I have to leave.
I watch as the glass doors close behind me. My stomach tightly knots as I know we won’t have this world in common again for another 63 hours.
I begin my journey home, with the slight reassurance that, on arrival visions of you will be painted on my canvas walls.
Visions of you, and Our Love Story.
by Rosa Mordaunt
Distant chatter fills the room, the clinking of forks and knives. I sit by a large window looking out onto the busy street, breathing in the aroma of burnt coffee, a sad looking muffin placed in front of me. A small layer of frost has fallen across the city and as people leave the building, gusts of cool air penetrate the warmth, sending a shiver down my spine. They leave wrapping their coats around them, hunched shoulders, heads down. Avoiding the wind. But also avoiding the distant faces walking by. The clouded sky lies like a blanket across the buildings that loom over the sidewalk, the sun peeking through the tiny gaps in the grey. Across the busy street a father shouts at a small boy, red puffy cheeks recently doused with tears. The anger on the father’s lips reads, “Boys don’t cry.” There is a churning in my stomach, like a dark stormy ocean, building slowly, slowly, but never crashing. I can see clearly in my mind the image of my grandfather standing over me, his figure slightly blurred, his voice penetrating my mind. “Men don’t cry!” Defiantly, through my sobs and tears, I had protested, “But I am just a boy!" His reply had been blatant and clear: “Boys don’t cry."
There is whispering through the cobbled streets; it echoes off the cool brick walls and weaves its way through a Pret A Manger and out an old back door. It gets snagged on a group of small children but is then quickly thrown away. At cafes, men and women look up from their phones and murmur quietly to themselves. A group of young men scatters from an old English pub, stumbling down Charing Cross Road. The whisper follows quickly, shouting now: “There’s a man crying in Trafalgar Square and they can’t stop him.”
I am pulled by the rising crowd, their murmurs filling the empty air. Traffic stops as the crowds fill the roads. Many crack their windows, hoping to catch the whisper; others honk their horns but as the whisper reaches them, they are swept into the crowd. Uniformed men scurry towards the ruckus. I hear a small shout from the swarm: “There’s a man weeping down there, and no-one can stop him.”
As the crowd spills into the square, right there, underneath Nelson’s Column, sits the weeping man. He sits, shoulders slumped, allowing the weeping to fall from his eyes. He does not remove the tears with the back of his hand, he simply lets them be what they are. He does not weep like I had once believed he would. He does not cry out or stomp his feet. He simply weeps. Weeps with the dignity of a man. Weeps with the certainty of his pain. Many look disgusted, others watch in horror, some feel that same weeping feeling rising through their chests. Only the children, whose minds are still so open, whose souls are still nourished by weeping, approach him, filling the golden desolate space shared with dogs and dusty pigeons. They sit beneath his feet looking up with sheer acceptance. For these creatures do not judge.
A figure removes themselves from the spectators with an outstretched hand and receives the gift of weeping. Many follow, tears streaming down their faces. Men. Women. Children. All weeping with the dignity that is themselves. Even the sky weeps gently in sympathy. As I feel myself step forward, my breath quickens. I can feel the ocean wave surge upwards, a tightening sensation restricts my breathing, as the ocean wave that’s been building all my life comes crashing down. But, like the man who weeps, I do not feel ashamed; instead, a sense of relief settles over my body and mind. Looking out into the crowd I see a blurred image. It is my grandfather. My emotions raw and new, I whisper gently to the crowd, my words lost in the weeping, “Boys do cry.”
Suddenly the weeping man stands and brazenly wipes the weeping from his cheeks just like the little boy, just like the cheeks of so many others. And as he leaves, the men and women stare out at him, at this man who has replenished their souls. But the weeping man does not look back, for he does not weep for others, he weeps only for himself, and as he passes through the crowd, it parts as if a halo force radiates around him. Evading believers, he hurries off down Whitcomb Street.
And I watch from the crowd, like so many others, tears still falling shamelessly down our faces, until the weeping man is out of sight and all we are left with is a glowing rainbow in the sky, the taste of weeping in our mouths, and the relief in our hearts, because “Humans do cry.”
by Ravi Newman-Pache
A single bead of sadness makes its way down the terrain of my cheek, disappearing into the mess of a beard I’ve failed to maintain. I’ve failed: failed my job, failed my wife and kids and now seemingly failed my life’s work. I’m now just a rough looking man slumped down, defeated, riding the subway. Just hours ago I was in court, following my dreams and accomplishing everything that I ever wanted to.
I look out of the window at the nightlife of the crammed orchestrated streets. People rushing like ants, traveling quickly from point A to B with their many purposes, dreams and stories. Rain, wind and shine they all live out their destinies and continue on; in this case they are all busy splashing through shallow puddles and bumping into each other with their oversized dull umbrellas. Some have nothing to shelter them from the heavy impacts of the wind-propelled rain drops; even in these cramped city streets there manages to be wind and a lot of it.
Another street passes. This one holds a group of homeless people surrounding a fire; they probably failed somewhere along their paths of life to bring them to this moment. I observe them sitting around the cosy fire with one another. Normally I can see the lines of happy city lights, stretching along the close horizon. Tonight, however, these normally happy lights are gone, drowned beneath the blankets of thick rain and gloom. Then everything disappears. In the pitch black of a tunnel I catch my reflection again in the opposite window. I’m slumped down in the shitty plastic seat. A shitty cheap suit suffocates my body and a small coffee stain on the left sleeve permanently mocks me – a brutal reminder of the day I just had.
I feel sorry for the stranger sitting across from me. Why are you so sad? What went wrong? Where along the line of life did it all start falling apart? Another stop passes, Johnson Street, still five more stops till mine. I notice that on the rough terrain of his cheek a single shiny line glistens in the moon and street light, it is the path a single lonely tear once travelled. I feel the cabin slowly filling with suffocating, thick pain and sadness; it poisons the air and masks out the normal smells of the night. My stop arrives and I wonder to myself where this sad man is going. It is rare to see anyone getting off this far out of the city; quite often I’m the only one left on the train. The city life here is non-existent, perhaps because of the recent rain or, more likely, because of the muggings and violence plaguing the streets. The doors finally open and we stand up in synchronicity. As the stranger and I turn and reach for our briefcases, he disappears.
I leave the cabin of the train with no resemblance of the other man inside. I look around for the man but find myself standing alone, cold and a little scared. Walking down the middle of the damp street is not unusual for me – I avoid being surprised and mugged this way. I trudge up the stairs to the second floor; turn a corner and face the door that inside holds the most important things in life to me. I open it and look onto the cramped apartment that we all call home. I can hardly say I’m home before I am tackled almost to the ground by two energetic boys. Always the best part of my day. My wife gives me a worried look and walks over to kiss me.
The bed wraps itself around me, granting me a sense of stability and comfort. I let myself relax for the first time today. I still have everything I need in life. I roll over and look out the bedroom window at the lit-up skyline. The rain has stopped and I smile. I notice my reflection in the window; no trace of the man on the train. One final yawn and I’m asleep.