“Never acknowledge the existence of strangers.” That seems to be the unwritten rule of the rail. Making eye contact with unknowns on the platform is taboo, and heaven forbid that you should speak to a stranger on a train.
It was he who broke the rule, but I played along. I got to my platform, and my train was still 3 minutes away. The bench was vacant except for an empty cigarette package, so I sat.
“Hi!” said the man sitting on the next bench over. He seemed rather cheerful.
“G’day”, I replied.
“D’ya have a cigarette?”
“Sorry?” My brain took a second to process the question.
He paused for a moment, then asked, “Do you smoke?”
“No, I don’t smoke.”
“Oh,” he replied, smiling. “… don’t smoke.”
He mumbled a few more words, probably to himself rather than me. I couldn’t make much sense of them.
I considered getting my book out of my bag. I decided that chatting with a stranger was the better option. I made eye contact with him again.
“L’just put my watch on,” he said, then dug his hand into his pocket. “I don’t have my watch… wait, yes I do.” He pulled out his hand and opened it, revealing a handkerchief, a metal watch, and a few trinkets.
He turned to me. “What arm does a man put their watch on?”
“Usually the left”, I said, pointing to my watch on my left wrist. “But some people wear it on the right.”
The man slipped the watch over his left hand and, in a feat of great concentration, did up the clasp. He looked at the watch, then up at me. “That feels more comfortable!”
He stared intently at the watch for a while, as if he was struggling to make out the time. Finally, he spoke. “Quartz… It says Quartz… What does yours say?”
“Mine says ‘Olympic’.” I held out my wrist to show him.
He thought for a moment, then said “I’m late for a very important date.”
“Very very very very very very very very very very very very very very late.”
“I see.” I nodded. I caught a glimpse of his watch. I wasn’t near enough to him to be certain, but it looked as though his minute hand was wrong by about 15 minutes, and his hour hand by about 6 hours.
Our train pulled up and we got on. There were many empty seats. I had only one stop to travel, so I stood near the entrance.
“Which way are you going?” asked the stranger. I was taken aback. He was on the same train as me. Surely it was obvious which way we were going.
“Are you sitting or standing?” he asked.
It suddenly dawned on me. He’d wanted to know where on the train I was going to sit.
“Oh, I’m just going to the next station, so I’m going to stand,” I told him. “What stop are you going to?”
He mumbled a few things to himself, seemingly deep in thought. “What stop… What stopping… University…”
He turned to me. “What’s stopping me? University… No, one of those non-accredited universities, they’re better aren’t they? Yeah, they’re better. They have all that high technology software latest technology. What’s it… DKS Chair. That’s what it’s called.”
He didn’t actually say “DKS Chair,” but I can’t remember the exact phrase he did use. It made as much sense to me as “DKS Chair”.
“Oh?” I said. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“Yeah, that’s it, DKS Chair. You should get one.”
The train slowed down. I smiled at the man. “Well, this is me. All the best!”
“See ya later Mr Man!” He held out his hand. I shook it.
I got off the train and silently prayed for him. I hope he made it safely to… wherever it was he was trying to get.