The Train Station

“Do you know what time it is?”

“It’s 7:04.”

“Thank you. My phones battery just died. So I can’t tell the time.”

Sofia watched as the man to her left slid his phone in his pocket and reached into his leather backpack. He pulled out a thick, white book. Smiling, Sofia pulled out her own copy of that thick, white book from her cloth tote bag. But the man to her left didn’t notice. Disappointed, Sofia straightened her posture and challenged herself to focus on her reading rather than her surroundings. Yet she was unable to concentrate. She read the same paragraph three times before turning her torso towards the man.

“Nice book.”

The man looked over, glanced towards her hands, and smiled.

“It seems that we are at a similar spot.”

“It does. I’m at page 126. How about you?”

“Page 144.”

“You beat me by eighteen pages.”

“I wasn’t aware there was a competition. But I’ll take the win.”

“Is this your first Murakami book?”

“No. My second. I read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle last month.”

“Have you recently become a fan?”

“His writing has hooked me.”

“His writing can do that.”

“How many Murakami books have you read?”

“This is my sixth.”

“It seems that you are a fan.”

“You can say that.” 

A silence ensued, in which the man interlocked his fingers and looked down at the dirty tiles.

“What made you decide to pick up his longest novel?”

The man looked up at her with a relieved expression.

“Well, it’s financially practical. More reading for a cheaper price.”

“I like that. I’m all about financial practicality.”

“Do you have a favorite?”

“A favorite Murakami book?”

“Yes.”

“It has to be Strange Library.”

“That’s the one that was recommended to me.”

“Did you get this book because it was longer?”

“No. I’m not that cheap. They didn’t have a copy of Strange Library at the bookstore.”

“That’s too bad.”

“So what’s so great about Strange Library?”

“It’s wacky. Like nothing I’ve read before, even from Murakami. It’s also illustrated. I think it’s a book for children, but it’s intense. Quite deep for a young reader.”

“That does sound interesting. Maybe I’ll order it.”

Sofia was about to ask the man for his name, but the noise of the approaching train made conversation difficult. She watched as he placed his Murakami book back in his backpack and walked towards the yellow line. She rose out of her seat and stood next to him, shielding her eyes from the fast moving air blowing at her. Once the train stopped, and the doors pinged open, Sofia followed the man into the Subway car. She sat next to him, keeping a comfortable distance between them, and through a sideways glance noticed him take the book back out of his backpack. She began to read as well, but was quickly interrupted.

“Are we still in a competition?”

“A competition?”

“What page are you on?”

“128.”

“Well, I’m still on page 144. You win this time.”

“Are you a slow reader?”

“I am. How about you?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve been told I’m a fast reader. But it’s not so much that I’m fast, but that I can read all day if I have the time and a quiet space to do so.”

“You did just read two pages in about a minute. In a public space.”

“It is quiet and empty in here.”

“True.”

“And I was at the end of page 126.”

“And you are at the beginning of page 128 now?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I still think that’s fast.”

“Maybe. But I do prefer to take my time reading. I like to parse down how each word contributes to the whole.”

The man smiled and placed his Murakami book back in his backpack. Sofia put hers on her lap.

“I didn’t get your name.”

“Koto. And yours?”

“That’s a beautiful name.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m Sofia.”

“Nice to meet you, Sofia.”

“Nice to meet you too, Koto.”

Koto awkwardly stuck his hand out in a shaking gesture, but immediately put it back in his lap and looked towards his feet.  

“You know, I can be quite shy as well.”

Koto glanced up, his eyebrows raised.

“Really? You don’t seem it, at least in the way you approached me and asked for the time.”

“I did have to clarify why I asked for the time.”

“True. Which I liked by the way. The fact that you asked me what time it was. With cellphones, it’s not often that a stranger asks us what time it is.”

“I haven’t noticed that. But you’re right.”

“Still, I don’t think you are as shy as me. You saw me. I awkwardly began reading because I didn’t know what to say. That’s how I normally am.”

“That happens a lot in New York City. You talk with someone when you are waiting for the train. And then they ignore you when you are standing or sitting next to each other in the train.”

“Well, I’m glad I’m not odd for this city.”

“Nobody is odd for this city.”

“That’s true.”

“Where are you from originally?”

“Iowa.”

“Did you just move here?”

“Yeah. Last year. I’m still finding my way.”

“You have time. It’s only been a year.”

“I haven’t made any connections. Only at work.”

“That’s typical.”

“Really? In Iowa, my friends were mostly friends from school or the neighborhood. I didn’t have any work friends.”

“It may be like that outside of cities.”

“Are you from the city?”

Sofia moved closer to Koto as the Subway car filled with passengers.

“I’ve lived in many places. I was born in Mexico City. Then I moved to a small town in Texas. For college, I studied at UT Austin. Then I moved for work: Nashville, Seattle, and now New York.”

“You have moved a lot. I’ve just lived in Iowa and New York.”

“What brings you here?”

“Coding.”

“Makes sense. There are a lot of well-paid coding jobs here.”

“For sure.”

“Where do you work?”

“Pinterest.”

“An ex of mine in Seattle worked at Pinterest.”

Koto awkwardly drummed on his leg as the train conductor announced the upcoming stop.

“So, do you enjoy moving that much?”

“Yeah, I do. I get anxious if I stay in one place for a long time.”

“I can understand that.”

Sofia glanced up as the train slowed at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center. She hurriedly placed her book in her bag.

“This is my stop.”

“It’s mine too. Well, I’m transferring here.”

“Me too. Which train?”

Koto glanced at his phone.

“The A.”

“Uptown?”

“Yeah, uptown.”

As the train slowed, Sofia stood and gripped the top bar, balancing herself from the jerking movements. Once the train stopped, she pushed her way past exiting and entering passengers to the sliding doors. In the station, Koto walked at her left side as they navigated the busy underground tunnels. It wasn’t until they descended the stairs to the A train track that they began speaking again.  

“So, where is it that you are heading?”

“A friend’s birthday party. You?”

“I’m also going to a birthday party. A coworkers.”

“It should be a good opportunity to meet people.”

“Hopefully, if they aren’t all coworkers.”

“I’m sure there will be more than just coworkers present.”

“Well, I’m not one for parties anyways. I mostly keep a low profile and talk to the people I already know.”

“Are you the guy that sits on the couch and stares at their phone all night?”

“Well, I’m not on the dance floor.”

“But do you talk to people?”

“I’ll have a long conversation with one or two people.”

“Long conversations are a great way to get to know people.”

“I guess.”

“Better than talking to everyone, but not getting to know anyone.”

“I guess you are right. I should be more positive.”

“It is a great mindset to have.”

“So what is it that you do?”

“I work at a publishing firm.”

“That’s awesome. Which one?”

“Simon & Schuster.”

“Wow. That’s a top publishing company. I’ve never met anyone that worked directly with books or writing before. At least as a paid career.”

“It is a hard career to break into. And increasingly so nowadays.”

“Yeah. Physical books aren’t on an upward trend. But audiobooks and ebooks are.”

“Ebooks are not the direction I want to go in personally. Or audiobooks.”

“I can understand that.”

“I’m not a fan of electronics, Kindle, or Amazon in general.”

“Amazon is something else. Trying to take over the world it seems. And bookstores and publishers were the first casualty.”

“We were. I got into the field in the late 2000’s, just as that trend was taking a foothold. So I’ve been witness to the change it’s brought.”

“I can imagine. So how does one get a job in the publishing industry?”

“You want the complete version?”

“Sure.”

“I started as a part-time intern at a small publisher that sold notebooks and bookmarks the last year of college. After graduating, I spent almost a year applying to various publishing positions while I worked at a coffee shop. I finally secured an unpaid internship, but they didn’t hire any of the interns. So I found another internship which gave me an entry level job after six months. Then many years of low pay, long hours, and office politics before climbing my way up the career ladder in various companies in order to secure fulfilling work at a comfortable pay.”

“Sounds exhausting.”

“It was. You’re smart to choose the tech field. It’s a lucrative profession that doesn’t require years of study at high cost.”

“Money is flowing into the tech sector for sure. Although, it can be competitive and high stress.”

“Has that been your experience?”

“Well, not really.”

“What has your career path looked like?”

“I studied at a coding bootcamp for less than a year. Then I got my first job at a start-up in three weeks time with a starting salary of 75k.”

“After years of climbing the corporate ladder I barely get that much.”

“But at least books are something you are passionate about.”

“True.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for my job. But I’d love to work with books. Or at least in a profession I found fulfilling. You know, for the longest time I wanted to be a writer.”

“Do you write?”

“No. Not now. I used to. But then responsibility and student loans got in the way.”

“How much did the bootcamp cost?”

“17k. And I didn’t have to pay until I got my first job.”

“So you went to school prior to that I take it.”

“Yeah.”

“Were you an English major?”

“Yes. English and history.”

“I was English and psychology.”

“See. At least you are doing something that aligns with your major.”

“I am grateful for that. But I’ll be honest, I do envy your salary potential. Living cheaply and under high stress for years takes it’s toll.”

“It does.”

“At least I am fulfilled in my job. So it’s not all bad. But it would be nice to not have to choose between work, friends, hobbies, and family however. You know, to have it all.”

“Well, I don’t think that you can have it all ideal is achievable. At least for the majority of us.”

“No, it’s not. You do have to pick and choose your sacrifices in life.”

The Subway recording announced the approach of the uptown A train. Sofia turned her head away from Koto and considered the impact that sacrifice had in her life. A year  into her new position, she felt unsure if her career could satisfy her until retirement. And the rising cost in living, along with the downward trends in her profession, made her future seem bleak and insecure. So- intrinsically and extrinsically- her career no longer felt worth abnegating her creativity, hobbies, passions, enjoyment, friendships, and family. And yet, the thought of giving up a stable salary and career, a career that she worked hard for, terrified her.

These thoughts disoriented her to the point that she nervously stepped back from the yellow line as the A train rumbled in.

“You are lost in thought.”

Koto had raised his voice so that he could be heard above the train. Sofia nodded her head in agreement and let the train come to a stop before answering.

“Yes. I’m at a point in my life where I’m reminiscing on my past and reconsidering my future.”

Koto remained silent as the train doors opened. She let the departing passengers exit before entering, stopping at the poll at the end of the train car. As the train doors pinged shut, Koto cleared his throat and spoke in a low tone.

“I can imagine that must be uncomfortable.”

“Incredibly so.”

Koto nodded his head sympathetically.

“It’s debilitating. So many questions keep me up at night. Do I want to be in New York City? Do I like publishing? Do I want to start my own business? Do I like who I am? Do I like who I’ve become?”

“That is a lot to think about.”

“Have you ever dealt with insomnia before?”

“No. I’m lucky. I’ve always been a good sleeper.”

“I’ve always been a bad sleeper. But the past six months have been particularly brutal.”

“Do you do anything to help you with the insomnia?”

“I read or go for a walk. Or meditate. It’s helped me to feel less anxious. But sleeping is still difficult.”

“Is your space loud?”

“No. It’s quiet. I love my space to be honest. I’ve been in the apartment for three years now.”

“So you’ve been in New York for a while?”

“About a decade.”

“I was wondering how you moved around a lot but still climbed your way up the career ladder.”

“I settled down when I got a job at Simon & Schuster.”

“So you’ve been anxious for ten years now?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said you get anxious when you stay put.”

“You have a good memory.”

“I’ve been told that.”

“I travel at least once a year.”

“How many countries have you been to?”

“I stopped counting at forty.”

“Holy shit. How did you afford all that traveling?”

“Hostels. Cheap living. In my late twenties, I traveled around Europe and North Africa for nine months. That’s how my country count got so high.”

“Where in North Africa?”

“Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.”

“That must have been amazing.”

“It may have been the best time of my life. I felt free and confident. And I didn’t have any fear then it seems. Then I moved back to New York City and started working a shitty job before getting back into publishing. Since then, I’ve lost that fun vibe that characterized my twenties.”

Sofia moved closer to Koto as the train car filled.

“I hope to travel soon.”

“Is there any place you want to go to in particular?”

“I’d love to travel South America.”

“South America is amazing. Colombia is one of my favorite countries. It inspired me to write.”

“Oh really. Was this a recent trip?”

“Almost four years ago now. But that writing stint was short lived.”

“What about Colombia inspired you to write?”

“Let’s just say a crazy trip in the jungle.”

“A trip in two senses I take it.”

Sofia gave Koto a sly smile. He smiled back at her.

“I’ve had my fair share of psychedelic experiences. Never on Ayahuasca though.”

“They call it Yagé in Colombia.”

“Oh, interesting. Well, psychedelics can give you writing inspiration for sure.”

“They can.”

“So, I haven’t asked you. Do you write often?”

“I don’t. I read, but I don’t write.”

“It’s not something you aspire to?”

“I like the idea of being a writer. But when I put the idea to practice, I find it frustrating and solitary for my liking. Also, I want to be noticed for my work. And that doesn’t happen easily in writing.”

“Trying to make it in the any of the creative fields seems like a brutal process.”

“It is. I’m not at the level where I work with the name brand authors yet, so most of the writers I know have been writing and publishing for decades while holding down a separate career. How they find the time, energy, and emotional wherewithal to persist, I have no idea. Especially the parents.”

“Have you worked with any writers you think I would know?”

“Probably not. As I said, no household name writers yet. But I can tell you the genre I specialize in. Literary fiction.”

“What is that?”

“The book we are reading would be classified as literary fiction.”

“Oh. What about it makes it literary fiction?”

“Literary fiction is essentially a novel without a specified genre. It focuses on prose, societal issues, and character development. It’s not as plot driven as, say, romance, science fiction, or crime and thrillers.”

“So, other than Murakami, what are some literary fiction writers?”

“Dickens, Wolf, Morrison, Dostoevsky, Wallace, Vonnegut, Zadie Smith, Faulkner, and Achebe are some.”

“So, most of the renowned writers are literary writers?”

“There are many renowned genre writers as well. Like Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Steven King, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie. And a lot of genre writers branch into literary fiction. Some literary fiction writers are also genre writers, like Vonnegut.”

“Honestly, I kind of hate labels.”

“I do as well. But it’s part of my work. It’s necessary in marketing, that’s for sure.”

“I’m not a fan of marketing either.”

“It is what is. That’s the stance I’ve come to.”

“Sounds like you’ve capitulated to the powers at be.”

“It happens to the best of us.”

“Perhaps.”

“So, do you just read literary fiction?”

“I guess. Literary fiction and essays or articles.”

“So literary and non-fiction.”

“I’ve read a few science-fiction books because my sister is a fan. She is also a fan of detective books. I enjoy those more.”

“What is the last crime novel you’ve read?”

“Oh, I can’t really remember. It was as few years ago. It must have been the last one my sister gave me.”

“She must have caught on that it wasn’t your type of reading.”

“I guess so. Or it’s just that we are now at opposite ends of the country. So it’s hard for her to put books on my bed for me to read.”

“That too.”

“Do you have any siblings?”

Sofia was about to answer, but she heard the conductor announce her stop. Swiftly, she slung her bag over her shoulder and apologized to Koto for having to end their conversation. He opened his mouth, but was asked to move aside by a young woman trying to exit the crowded train. She quickly followed behind the woman and yelled out to Koto to keep on exploring Murakami’s work as she stepped out of the the Subway car. Once the doors closed, she turned and waved goodbye through the small, foggy windows.

The train sped down the track and Sofia continued on in the opposite direction.

6 thoughts on “The Train Station

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  1. I loved this story. I find myself liking stories that have endings like this. They had a great conversation, exploring their lives and it didn’t end in tragedy or love. It just ended. Leaves so much room for me to imagine what happens next or for you to give us more.💜💜💜

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