THE TRAIN SAT for another half hour, and my eyes kept coming back to her. I got to know her expression very well; looking inward, not in the present, stuck in the recent past. If it weren’t for the circumstances… okay, so now I can say that regardless of the circumstances, I was attracted to her. Her face was roundish with big, dark bulbous eyes, and her lips curved down into a natural frown. To see her smile must have been rare and exciting. Her hair hung straight down the sides of her face to just below her chin, framing it almost perfectly, and she wore a black hat high up on top of her head. She’d look up every so often, but she never saw me.
The train finally started up, and a collective sigh of relief—that I wish I could erase—spread through the carriage. It stopped at Southern Cross and most of the people got off. I was supposed to get off, but I saw her still sitting. The doors closed and the train started towards Flinders Street. I made up my mind that I would ask her what the dead man had said. I didn’t know exactly how I would phrase it, or how tactful it would be, but I had to know. It was a mystery that I couldn’t let pass. I foolishly felt it was my duty, as though she couldn’t be trusted with such an important task as being the sole ward to a legacy summed up in a few words. I must shoulder the burden of it, take it from her and become the keeper of this man’s final thought, a flickering flame that I would keep burning bright. Maybe I would whisper it to those I trusted as a mark of confidence, or maybe I would tell everyone, spread it to all those who would listen; an urban disciple.
She didn’t stand up until the train came to a complete stop. She slid the heavy doors open and stepped out onto the platform. Rather than taking the escalators up to the station, she walked down the steps that lead under Flinders to Degraves Street. I followed.
She walked brusquely, heels clapping the tiles and echoing in the underground. Near the ticket machines she stopped, fumbling with her bag. I decided that this was my chance. I raced after her and, stopping at the ticket machine, reached out and tapped her shoulder. She turned slowly, as though expecting someone she knew and quickly looked me up and down.
‘Hi. I was on the train with you just then. D’you remember me?’
‘Well, are you okay?’
‘Just a little shaken.’
‘I… I saw that he spoke to you.’
‘The man. The man that jumped.’
‘Oh. Yeah, he spoke to me.’
‘This is going to seem really… would you tell me what he said?’
She hesitated, wincing a little at the thought.
‘Why?’ she said, her eyes widening suddenly, as though I had information that she may find of use.
‘Because…well, because I really want to know.’
She sighed. ‘He asked me for a smoke.’
Something inside sank instantly, as though it were never there in the first place. ‘Well thanks.’ I turned to walk back up to the platform without any interest, but her voice rang out in the empty tunnel.
‘I had one left.’
I turned around. ‘What?’
‘I had one cigarette left. But I didn’t give it to him.’ She trembled, her natural frown growing further downward.
I walked up close to her, touching her shoulders, feeling as though it was the right thing to do. She felt it too, for she eased, as though my gentle touch was not only steadying her but holding her upright.
‘It’s okay. I’m sure it wouldn’t have made a difference either way.’