The man sat outside the train station, directly across the exit from where people poured out. It was the evening hour and beaten down office workers were retreating home. Peanut hawkers milled about, coaxing slender paper cones filled with roasted, third-grade nuts into the hands of the hungry.
Unlike the bodies rushing around, he was still. Tucking in his long legs, he crouched against the wall, trying, unsuccessfully, to create some distance from the barrage of feet pounding on the footpath. A few people rained curses on him as they stumbled by. He didn’t relinquish his place, just squeezed himself a little bit more into the wall.
He kept looking into the distance, sometimes turning right, sometimes left. Who was he waiting for? He was in his mid-20s, hair parted in the middle and oiled down innocently. He wore polyester pants from a decade ago, a full sleeved, tailored shirt to match. The bag next to him was a striped, nylon hand bag, the kind that are still in use in villages but no longer seen in the cities. His wide eyes, searching and unsure, gave away his status as a stranger in the city.
He looked lost. And scared. I could feel his nervousness as the sought-for person did not emerge from the crowds. If he had had a watch, he would have checked it every few seconds. Instead, he darted his gaze in all directions, desperate to recognize the face he was awaiting.
Was it a girlfriend he was eloping with? Was it a fellow villager who was returning home with him, after being defeated by the cruel, heartless city? Or had he been separated from his family, and he had arrived at the designated meeting point early to ensure he didn’t miss them?
While he looked at every face passing by, none looked back at him. Most people had their heads hung low, concentrating on making their way. Others were busy chatting on mobile phones, looking into the distance, as if seeing the person on the other line. Nobody saw him, who was right under their nose.
I felt my stomach knot. I remembered the time I was locked out of my flat in Boston and waited on the sidewalk in desperation, unable to make contact with my landlord or my neighbour to let me in with their extra keys, and unsure of what to do. I couldn’t get into my home, and I had nowhere to go. It was the loneliest feeling. People walked by, oblivious to me; I didn’t exist, no face looked at me kindly. I was alone, in the midst of so many people.
I felt sorry for him. I hoped his friend or family would come soon. I anticipated the relief that would wash over him when this happened. I silently wished him a safe wait.