In this heavy downpour, as I wait under the precarious shade, there’s a persistent young man haggling with the grocer in the stall next to me. He’s soaked to the bone, the worn out bag over his head failing to keep the raindrops away. People scrambling about hoping to get out of the rain shove and stumble past him. But he remains where he is, still insisting on his price, raindrops clinging to his lashes like lovers. The grocer, just as helpless as I, laughs in defeat. Then the stubborn, stubborn man grins unabashedly, having successfully bargained for his apples, red and glistening. The plastic packet is rejected, and the apples tumble into his drenched bag. As he walks away, a strange longing hits me, and I console myself with frivolous thoughts: maybe we’ll cross paths again, someday. Maybe I will be more than a mute spectator, in this fairytale future.
Then there’s the girl on the metro, surrounded by her friends, leaning against the doors. The fair has just ended and it is densely packed; I can’t even move my arms. I crane my neck away from the child in front of me jumping excitedly, her hair lathered with coconut oil bumping into my face. My friends laugh at me, and I grimace good-naturedly. I notice the girl then smiling at me too, eyes full of mirth looking from the excitable child threatening to topple me, to my arms straining to hold on to the pole. Embarrassed, I look away, a traitorous smile creeping up on my face. My friends are saying something, but I’m distracted, gaze drawn towards her. She glances my way again, and I hastily look away. And so the push and pull goes on.
I hear her friends speak in my native language, and it makes me giddy to hear her speak the same. Abruptly, I want her to know I can speak it too. It is a silly coincidence, and surprisingly not uncommon, in a city far away from home. But there are words on the tip of my tongue desperate to burst through.
As the station approaches, her friends try to make their way to the opposite set of doors, afraid they’ll miss their stop in the crowd. One of them tries to elbow past me, and I am thrilled. I can tell them, in this familiar language, that my friends and I will be getting down at the same stop. It’ll catch her off guard, I’m sure it will. But just as I begin to utter a word, the girl laughs, trying to pull her friend back. They’re probably getting off there too, calm down, we won’t miss it she says, looking at me again, and I wonder if she knows I can understand every word. But I had already made a sound, already begun to say something and my friends are now looking at me expectantly, so I switch to English, disappointment surging up at me. We’ll be getting down at the next stop too I say, and she grins at me, nodding, as her friend huffs.
It is a blur after that, once the station arrives. I am unable to catch another glimpse of her. But it feels like I have a secret which doesn’t belong to me, this language that we unknowingly share. And so I look forward to that fairytale future.
But even as I write this, I can no longer recall what she looks like, what the stranger at the grocer looked like, or how the multitudes of other people who charm me even as they just walk by look like.