Weekend Fiction: The Arrival

Inspired by Rene Magritte’s L'Empire des Lumieres.

Lalice watches the last train arrive, its passengers spilling out into the platform in a blur of shadows and setting sun. Most are in a rush to get back home, footsteps haste and barely touching the floor. Only one took his time, and Lalice studies him as he leisurely walks out of the carriage with his hands in his pockets. He was looking around. Lalice caught a glimpse of his unnerving blue eyes.

Before her, the train hums, gets ready to leave. In the stranger's distracted wanderings, he collides with another. The last of the passengers disappear beyond the flashing green exit signs, and the doors are now beeping. The automatic doors shut, and the train rumbles back to life.  The blue-eyed stranger stops to watch as the person he collided with runs after the train to no avail. He bends down, hands on his knees as he looks up at the retreating train. Lalice couldn't see his face. The stranger joins the other on the platform, they start talking as they make their way out.

'The next one is in two hours due to a problem down the line. You can just catch the next one,' Lalice overhears the stranger. She turns to her companion with a silent question, but Tala merely smiles back and turns to stare at the empty carriage before her. Lalice shrugs. This isn't their train.

'I sometimes think that travelling through trains is like wandering through chaos,'

At the corner of her eye, Lalice sees the stranger turn and survey the station. His eyes gloss over the last two waiting on the platform. 'Did you hear that?' he asks.

His companion startles. 'What?'

The stranger shakes his head, blue eyes still wandering across the station. 'Nothing. Never mind.' The two soon exits, leaving behind them silence.

Humming under her breath, Lalice finds herself lost in thought. In lands of long twilights and wailing winds, where whispers of long forgotten songs echo in the night, and rooms drown in dust. The air vibrates with the weight of silence. Sometimes you can hear a train whistle in the distance, but you cannot see or know how far away it was. The lamplight flickers to life by the staircase. It's getting dark and Lalice's fingers were turning numb from clutching her cold drink in one hand, the other safe and warm in the confines of her coat. Lalice can just make out a field of power lines beyond the edge of the station, reaching out into the distance. She wonders where they're heading. She sighs, watches as the words drifted out as pale smoke. There are flowers sprouting through the cracks on the platform concrete and Lalice edges a shoe forward before deciding against it. They looked like moonflowers.

'Where are we going?' Lalice asks after a beat of silence. She turns to Tala and sips on her iced coffee.  Only the ice remains and the airy, slurping sound the empty plastic cup makes is loud against the silence. The train had already left.

Tala shrugs not quite looking at Lalice as she nibbles on her own straw. 'Wherever this train's going,'

Lalice stares at her companion until their eyes meet. Tala blinks before her lips break out into a large grin. 'You wanted an adventure, didn't you? Get out of the city and all,' Lalice laughs in disbelief and shakes her head. She did. She turns away to look at the empty tracks.

Lalice throws her empty coffee cup on a nearby trash can. It clatters before the platform resumed its silence. Tala hums under her breath, white mist occasionally coming out as smoke from parted lips as she exhales. She leans back against the platform walls. Lalice shivers, burying her chin on her oversized red and blue scarf.

'There's no-one here,' Lalice murmurs, voice muffled beneath the wool. It's like the universe had forgotten this little place, like a road not on the map, like a glitch in space. Lalice peeks from above her scarf, studying the station at the corner of her eye. The ornate, golden clock embedded at the centre of the wall continues to tick. It's nearing seven.

There's a strange silence that empty train tracks wear. Lalice doesn't like it.

'I like it,' Tala sighs, smiling a little as she wraps her own scarf snugly against her neck. She stuffs her hands into her coat pocket and looks towards the skies with a smile. 'It's like we're the only ones left in the world,'

'That sounds lonely,' Lalice says.

Behind them the announcement flashes, showing the platform numbers and times in pixelated orange letters against black. The next train is due to arrive in five minutes.

"The train now approaching platform X does not stop here. Please stand well back from the platform edge."

Lalice hears the operator's voice announce, it fades off into silence. The static sounds like ocean waves.

This train station is different, Lalice had noted when they first came in. She'd never been here before, but Tala skipped ahead and led the way like it was home. The first thing Lalice saw was a colossal twisted tree at the centre of the station, the concrete floor carved out where the soil started. The branches reached towards the ceiling, breaking through so there's a small gap where you can see the skies above. People had gotten used to this odd addition to the mundanity of train commutes now. They just whisk past leaving the ancient, leafless tree unnoticed. They come and go like phantoms, rushing past to their next destination without much thought.

From where they stand, Lalice can just make out the tips of the tree as it breaks through the ceiling. She wonders what colours the leaves were at its prime, whether it had flowers. It was a chilly night, around November maybe (time never did exist when they were off on their little adventures) and the metal poles that held the platform together form distorted shadows on the concrete floor. The moon smiles tonight. Lalice lets the faint wind tip her back on her heels a little and gravity to carry her forward until she's swaying on the spot.

'I sometimes think that travelling through trains is like wandering through chaos,' Tala says in a soft murmur. At this angle, the moonlight hits her hair just right, paints the light brown strands in white streaks.

Lalice remains quiet. She doesn't quite know what to say. Tala has this habit of saying random things and it never fails to catch Lalice off-guard, never fails to make her lose her words. Lalice waits for Tala to continue, but she is only met by silence. That's normal too. It's like there are so many things rushing through Tala's head that it takes her a while to gather everything, the silent spaces are merely where information is gathered and understood. Lalice always imagined it as people running past each other in a train station, their faces a blur, their bodies mere silhouettes from the places they've been and gone – there but barely there at all.

To her left Lalice thinks she hears a sound. Like in most train stations, there is a telephone box where the stairs end. It is a dark shade of blue with white etchings. The phone is ringing.  Strange, Lalice thinks. Why would a telephone ring at such a place? Was it meant for someone? Could just be a wrong number. But could you even dial a public telephone's number? Lalice didn't know. Lalice turns to Tala with a frown. Tala didn't seem to hear.

"The train now approaching platform X does not stop here. Please stand well back from the platform edge."

Lalice frowns, straining her ear to hear. The static is now the crash of waves, Lalice can just make out the edge on the operator's voice. He sounds urgent.

'– you see people hurrying across platforms, running past automatic doors to a destination day in and day out. They barely notice what's going on around them,' with her head still craned towards the dark skies, Tala turns to Lalice and smiles. 'Utter chaos.'

Tala does that too. Continues as if there wasn't a minute of silence after her first thought. Lalice smiles as a reply. Somewhere in the distance, Lalice thinks she hears a piano play. It is faint. So faint that she shakes it off as just the background music from the train announcement. She vaguely registers the familiar song – like a long-lost melody, a forgotten note somewhere in the recesses of her memory. There but barely there at all.

"Please stand well back from the platform edge."

The voice had become much louder, more urgent and desperate. Lalice ignores it, instead choosing to focus on a faint rumbling. It made the metal tracks shake.  Maybe the train's coming.

'Are we wandering through chaos right now?'

Tala returns to staring at the night. She closes her eyes and breathes in. Time stills. Lalice finds herself holding her breath too as she traces the moonlight against Tala's tanned skin. Time continues on its course and Tala breathes out.

'No,' Tala whispers. 'Not chaos.'

"The next train at Platform X is the 00:00 Kairos Express service to..."

This was a different voice. It didn't sound like the previous male voice that grew increasingly urgent. This was calmer, feminine but robotic.

The phone's incessant ringing fades off in the station's buzz too, drowned in the emptiness and stillness. Lalice had forgotten about it. Tala didn't hear.

Time runs past in silence. A breeze sweeps through the tracks, as if something had streaked past in a hurry. The rumbling sound fades off into the distance.

The train was nowhere in sight.

Born in Manila, Philippines, Lerah Mae Barcenilla is a graduate of the Universityof Leicester. She writes poetry and prose, mostly in hipster coffee shops.

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