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The Blonde in the Brush

I stared out the train’s window at this blonde dude, wondering how the hell he got where he was. It made no sense. There he was, on the road’s median, a fence to his side, a mighty wall of bushes behind and a thin row of trees ahead, walking toward the asphalt’s zebra. Was he working there? That was the only logical reason for him to be there, but something about his manner and dress told me he wasn’t. He weaved his way between the trees for a few seconds before the train sped past, and he vanished from view. Damn, I thought, if the train was a little earlier I could see how he got there.

Since there appeared to be no rational justification for him to be there, there must have been an irrational one. A mistake of some kind? The blonde must have thought there was a way to cross the road without a zebra, but was then blocked by the fence, and so began walking up the median to mount the zebra. I wasn’t quite satisfied with that… explanation? But I couldn’t think of any other. It would have to do.

My stop was still a good 20 minutes (I think?) off, and I had nothing better to do, so I entertained myself by observing the people around me, trying to figure out how they got where they did. Truly the zenith of enjoyment, I know. Anyway, a couple minutes after that first observation, the train reached another platform, and in came an old woman. She was using a walker, and one of the passengers standing up–all the seats in the car were taken–had to help her into the train. She was shaking with the effort.

I looked around as my mind raced. Did I feel any pity for the woman? No, I thought. Sympathy? No. Sense of obligation to the public good? No. Did I have any desire whatsoever to get up? Don’t think so. Having gone through all of those, I nodded to myself and got up, grabbing my bag and signaling to the woman to take my seat. The same passenger that helped her earlier was helping her get into her seat as she said, “Thank you, sweetie.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or the passenger.

As I wiggled about, attempting to sling my bag onto my back without knocking into anything, I examined myself again. Did I feel proud of what I’d done? No. Happy? No. Satisfied? No. Content? No. When she thanked me–if she thanked me–did I feel anything positive? Not unless you count mild annoyance as positive. Did I feel anything at all positive due to my action? My back was heavier on one side because of a water bottle, and the straps that dangled off on that side dug into my back. I felt much hotter than before, maybe due to all the people standing about me and sweating. My back was already itchy, either from sweat or the strap. I still had another 15 or so minutes till my stop. I had to reach up and grab a pole high and to the right to stop myself from falling when the train slowed or turned. All things considered, the answer to my “positive emotions” question–and any like it–was a definitive No.

Once I realized that, once that sunk in, I smiled. A smile full of raw joy. Elation. Not for the act, but for the evidence it provided. The smile quickly vanished as we rounded a corner and I had to strain my already aching arm. I was no longer happy, but I was, now, satisfied. And that satisfaction remained the entire ride. Then I got to work and forgot all about it.

Jeffrey Smart, The Last Train
Jeffrey Smart, The Last Train

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