he train whistled by trees with the sun’s light shining through. Down on the tracks below, sparks flew as if magical wings prepared to lift the train up, up into the sky.
I sat in on one of the seats near the exit as the train stopped and the doors opened with a sizzle at the opposite end of the train. Through them stepped a man holding a teddy bear loosely in his hands, mimicking that of a boy holding his beloved puppy.
People looked strangely at him. Yet, in some way, they all appeared to ignore him as he searched for a seat, his eyelids flickering like those of a butterfly’s wings from seat to seat.
Starting at the far end of the train, he moved upwards towards the end as people looked wearily at him and his teddy bear. He walked closer to where I sat with a book in my hands, my only company being that and my bag laying across from me and the train’s whistling across the rails.
When he stepped closer, I looked up wearily from my book. I met his gaze and saw that it was not one of a young man that I had first thought, neither was it a middle-aged man. It was as if years counted upwards as I sat there and looked at him, twenty, thirty, fifty, seventy. This, this was an old man; an old man holding a torn teddybear.
His eyes met mine. And his were filled with red strokes running in all directions.
As if out of an instinct, I nicked my bag away from the seat across and laid out my hand inviting his uncertain, careful eyes to sit. I let a faint smile run across my face like the one smiled towards people without a home, people in need; a smile to show caring, true caring, a want to help, but without knowing how to.
He sat down and then hasty jumped to the inner seat like a child on an airplane yelling; ”Dibs to sit at the window.”
Trees, entire forests, mountains; it was as if they all passed by outside. And he, regarding them all with the same lost eyes, with a faint glaring like that of a moon shining on a mid-day sky despite the sun’s intense light. His eyes flickered among the land at the same time as they remained quiet, still, speckled with a dry redness.
Never did he look at me as I sat there looking at him, wondering why this old man, small to his size, yet with the appearance of an old oak, carried a teddy bear in his hands and then grew lost in the landscape outside.
I mumbled something that not even I, myself, could hear and returned to my book, the one that had been resting in my lap all this time, the one that had regarded this old man with the same eyes as me.
My eyes began to wander, like his wandered over the landscape, but mine over the words and sentences. And after a few seconds the land, the whistling of the train, the old man across, faded and turned oblivious to me.
But a sound broke that shield that I had risen. He began to sob. The old man across had his eyes soften and filled with tears and his mouth moved close to the ear of the teddy bear. Eyes from the train reached towards him, nervous, annoyed, sad.
”It is going to be alright.” he whispered, his voice as fragile as his eyes and his soul to the ear of the teddy bear. ”Please let it be okay…” His voice sounded fainter and his teary eyes took over, as if lowered into the deepest depths of a well, deep under water, hidden from the world.
I looked up from my book with the same strange look on my face as the rest of the train; one of modest annoyance. But mine was not towards him, but towards myself. I wanted to comfort him, ask him to tell me his sorrows and clear some of the weight he carried. A weight, I, myself, felt as I sat across from him. It was as if this weight weighted down the entirety of the train, its whole body. Making its wheels of polished steel whisper louder, spark but more, glow but more dangerous.
For a moment, a panic soared within me. I imagined the weight of the train’s front growing so heavy that the rest of it flew past, light as a feather, setting fire to the flawless steel wheels and the torn copper tracks, sparking flames out toward the sky instead of down towards the ground.
As if in a leap of faith, I dove into my book. The book that had previously, same as now, rested calmly in my lap, regarding the world, the train, with the same eyes, but in quiet.
Head first I traveled, away from the train, away from the man. And it was not until the train stopped whistling that I breathed out, still imagining the weight of this old man’s sorrow.
I looked over on the seat where he had sat, where he had sobbed and cried heavy tears to the ear and the fur of the teddy bear. The seat where he had looked out the window, lived into the world in a similar way to how I had lived myself into the book in my lap.
But now, the seat he had sat on, the place where his body had rested while his eyes and soul turned to liquid and flowed out, like the rivers in the landscape, was empty of him.
His speckled, red eyes were gone. His faint, sad, lost sobbing; gone.
I felt my head spin around my neck, my eyes searching for him.
I turned back, looking at his seat as the train horn sounded for everyone to step off.
On the seat, where he had sat, sat now only the teddy bear; lonely, alone, perhaps abandoned. Its ear stilled by the dried, salty tears and the sad, abandoned whisper from the old man. Its arms, reaching out to the world in search of a home, a friend that it could comfort. To care for their tears and their sobs, just like any other teddy bear would.
But this one had one difference, a single one. That being, that around its neck there hung a small paper note with a string going around and around the fur of its neck. And with stiff letters, old as an oak yet childlike, it read; ”IF LOST PLEASE RETURN”
But the last few words had been crossed out, as if an oak had put its leaves in front of it to hide it, not wanting to be found.