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The whistle and hiss of steam sang through the station. The large clock in the center of the station strikes twelve noon.
He sat and watched from his bench, eyes lazily looking out over the crowds of people. Decent shoes, nice pants and shirt, costly blazer all gave him the air of someone with a full pocket. The only thing to offset this image was a quirky wool hat that rested lopsidedly on his head, like the cap of a street urchin stealing peanuts and apples from vendors. It must have been left over from the war. He waits for his train.
The constant rush of people from the rainy street outside, to warm bench, to steam engine was a storm of a million different stories and voices all swirling to create Grand Central Station.
The war changed people in so many ways. The man himself had lost his voice from inhaling so much smoke in Germany four years ago. So many men had lost much worse than their ability to speak. But it wasn’t just the people who had been affected; the sounds in the city were different, as if the whole town were sighing in sweet relief. The end of the war had brought about so much change. It was this on going feeling of liberation that washed over the man as he sat, forced to wait for the arrival of his train.
Stray children run under the feet of the many Business people, their faces and hands sticky with sweet Gelato. These children are the offspring of New York, the many moving parts with in the great machine that keep the ticking of the city’s spirit alive. At least, that is what the man on the bench thought. He always envied these children and their carefree rampaging down the streets, belonging to no one, coming and going as they please. The young man, aged a thousand years by war, longed for those days of childhood as he waited for his train.
Thousands of people met daily in this station. Perhaps their hands would brush as they walked by each other or a rich gentleman from central park west would run into the janitor. Maybe a tanned lady all the way from Florida would drop her bag and an old wizened man would bend his creaking legs to retrieve it for her. It did not matter where you are from, or where you are going in this station, only that you were here. The train that the man waited for seemed as if it was never going to arrive.
Looking for something to do, the man glanced down at the New York Times beside him. After the war it was as if the whole world had begun to celebrate. Today the headlines read, “James Gallagher Flies All the Way Around the World.” It seemed to the man that anyone could do anything in this changing world; it was 1949 for God’s Sake.
The man’s eyes return to the bustling crowd of people. Something catches his eyes, a still cog within the clockwork of New York. She was dressed in an ivory blouse, a navy blue skirt and a black hat and coat, a wet umbrella clutched to her side. All the sounds of the terminal faded and the man could hear the drip, drip, drip of the water rolling off the umbrella and on to the floor. She seemed the only person in the station, beside himself, who was not rushing somewhere.
A billowing hiss of steam brought the man back from his reverie. His train had arrived. He left his bench and fought through the crowded station. In his mind the image of that woman swirled. How could she be so impervious to the hustle and bustle? How could she resist the changing world around her? The smell of the oiled wheels and steam surrounded him as he boarded. He found a seat by a window and settled down.
“Is this seat taken?” The voice of The Woman danced through the air. The man’s mind fluttered back in time to when he was a young boy. He remembered the feeling in the pit of his stomach when he sat next to that pretty blond girl in Sunday school. He felt like one of those sticky-fingered children, carefree and suddenly, inexplicably joyful.
“Excuse me sir, is anyone sitting hear?” She repeated. Tap, tap, tap. Her foot gently patted on the floor, irritated.
“No, please sit. What is your name? Where are you from? Would you care for a coffee?” All of these thoughts flashed through his mind. But he had no voice to say them with. Instead he motioned for her to sit.
“Thank you.” Her voice was sweet and soft.
This would be the only conversation they would ever have. They would grow up, two people in two separate worlds, never knowing the future they could have had. But within that man, the feeling of little boy love would remain. The war had taken his voice, but not his heart. The train chugged through the outskirts of New York City, just another whirring piece in the giant clock works of 1949. A woman sitting next to a man, he is in love with her and she has no idea.
Tick, tick, tick. And time moves on.