In TravelSexLife’s very first submission to Travel Tales: Fiction, allow me to welcome a particularly unique voice to the site. Darren Gelsi, artist, vagabond, extremist, and long-time friend, will be publishing an ongoing, weekly story that he’d like to call Enroute: Everything Between Here and There.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”- Mark Twain
My story begins as most stories do, on a public train sandwiched between a fixed gear bike (not mine) and some semi-posh girls shouting Yelp! reviews at one another. I make it a point to travel light, but I’m still taking up more space than usual with my one-two punch backpack and side satchel. Of course, the tallest guy on the train just starts coughing freely like he’s never seen Outbreak. Being the height of cold season, everyone subtly retreats inch by inch, compressing ever tighter against one side of the car.
It’s barely past 9:00 in the morning, but outside everything is gray and the windows are speckled with tiny globules. I’m straining now, struggling not to fall and create a horrible, nightmarish human domino scenario. The quick-release latch on the bike wheel is jutting into my ankle and the nearest semi-posh girl is hip to hip with me, gyrating slightly with the rumble below. Together, we enter that noble tradition: the phase of the trip when everyone looks down to avoid eye contact.
And it goes on like this for a bit. Whenever fate thrusts you into someone’s personal space, the main thing to do is be not creepy. It’s a matter of respect, and to a certain extent it’s a matter of whether you mouth-breathe and believe the hype about personal hygiene products. Still, you’d have to be delusional not to notice a pretty girl that smells five times better than anything else on the train. It’s a survival mechanism, being aware of your surroundings.
So I survey the area, scanning across the variable mosaic of faces, but mostly lingering down and to the right. She’s wearing tights as pants, boots, and a blazer. It’s become a standard motif, but she wears it well. In the end, everything in life is more about how than it is about what.
I make sure to keep my gaze fluid, like I’m looking everywhere on accident. But secretly my mind is focused. On my third pass our eyes snag and I have to throw out the acknowledgment smile. It’s a smile that seems to say: “Yep.” She smiles back with quick blinks as if to say, “Oh, hello there.” But I’ve already looked away before she has a chance to finish.
“What are you listening to?” she asks. I’d forgotten I even had my earbuds in. I had re-listened to one of my favorite segments of the Fresh Air podcast on my way to the train station.
“Tupac,” I lie. “You know him?”
“Nah,” she shrugs. “I was always more into Biggie.”
There was a slight bend to the way she said Biggie, or did I just imagine it? It’s time to up the ante.
“Oh yeah? Well I’ve always loved Puffy, if you catch my drift.”
I’m not quite sure what I’m insinuating, but I wink at her and she starts laughing. I quickly double-click my brain file on sexually suggestive rapper names in case I need to keep this up. Method Man, Tip, ODB, Big K.R.I.T, Red Man. Okay, so pretty much any rapper would do.
“You’re funny,” she says, clawing her fingernails up my skinny jeans. “Are you travelling or is it just a big day at the office?”
I’m struggling to keep the blood from rushing to my face and other places. The announcer comes over the speakers saying something about the next stop.
“Oh these?” I say, hoisting my bags. “I’m heading to…er, London.”
Her hand is rising like an elevator, Icarus flying up to the sun.
“Heading, eh? The 10:30 to LHR?” her hand stops.
“Yeah,” I say. “You too?” She fans an envelope an inch from my face. Her eyes are grey.
“10:30 to LHR,” she smiles. “Business or pleasure?”
“These days, is there even a difference?” I remark. “What’s your name?”
Suddenly the train is stopping. The momentum tilts everyone forward, tighter than ever. She’s pressed up against me now and I can feel her shape and her breath on my neck. Her nails are leaving marks in my arm and my hand is on the small of her back. It’s small. Everything stops for a moment while our hearts play ping pong.
The doors slide open. The pressure intensifies. The bike is moving forcefully behind me. I look back to see the owner wearing a newsboy cap, knickers, and weird leather goggles.
“Move, move!” he barks from beneath his nose, pressing the bike forward like a maniac with every syllable. A torrent of activity thrusts me forward into the flow of passengers exiting the train. I’m caught in it with no choice but to proceed, like a cow on slaughter day.
“Move!” he shouts again and I’m on the platform, crossing over the bumpy yellow floor to the dingy, polished tile.
“What the hell is your problem?” I exclaim in my best Seinfeld cadence- but he’s gone, already halfway to the escalator he’s not supposed to take his bike on but will anyway. I turn back to the train, which is more crowded than ever. A small boy is clinging desperately to his mother’s shopping bags just to keep from spilling out.
“Hey buddy,” says a guy that looks like Joe Pesci. “There’s no more room. Just be patient and catch the next one, eh?”
But this is my train. I was just in there, and she was doing the thing with her hand- but the words don’t come out. The cold doors just slide shut before me, and the windows blur away.
Next week – Enroute: Part Two
Darren Gelsi lives in Berkeley California, incessantly observing, writing, talking, listening and partaking in the splendor of The Bay Area. He believes in the awe and power of travel, that love and life might be around each corner,and that food tastes good. The world is full of mystery, and before it’s over he’d like to see every spec of it.
Image by Manny Hernandez. Manny attended California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. He currently works at Pixar Animation Studios.