It’s five a.m. I’m standing at the corner train stop waiting for the express line that is usually on time but today for some reason is taking longer than expected. I look down at my black suede boots and watch as the oncoming puddle of water from the downpour of rain that started a few hours ago soaks them. Just another typical spring in Kiev. My umbrella is half broken and I shift my bag with my lunch and recipe books to my left side as I look down the tracks hoping to see the headlights of the train. Still nothing. I sigh a big sigh and look at my watch, it's five fifteen now. Finally I hear some movement break the silence and spot the headlights slowly approaching and my body reacts with relief. I hate being late.
I get on the train and look around. No one is on it except him, as usual. There he sat in his usual spot, three rows back on the right side with his black pea coat with wooden toggles, reading glasses slightly askew underneath a disheveled mane of curly black hair speckled with grey. He had wrinkles above his thick wispy brows, but they weren’t deep enough to truly reveal his age. Although, the resemblance between him and I were uncanny, down to the crooked nose and chubby piano fingers. He looked somewhat familiar and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we had met before or had known each other in another life. I quickly turn my eyes to the floor so as not to make any contact with his alluring green eyes and sit down a couple rows behind him. I open my bag and take out my battered copy of Brothers Karamazov and bury my face in it until I get to the stop, thirty minutes later. He got off at this stop too, every morning since I first started taking the train when I got this new job at the library a few months ago. He turned left from the train station and I always went right. Two strangers living opposite lives. Or so it seemed.
As I entered the library from the back door, I closed my umbrella and shook it out until it was somewhat dry and hung it on the coat rack next to the door. My hair was slightly damp from the walk and a tousled it with a towel that was hanging on the coat rack.The library wasn’t huge like the ones in New York or Los Angeles that I had seen on TV. It was one story but was wide and had multiple long wooden tables in the center with bookshelves circling around them. Usually the library was busiest in the afternoon, when people would come in on their lunch breaks for a quick read or to relax in one of the corners that held large overstuffed leather chairs. They were usually complete with a small table for coffee and pastries or the occasional cigarette that was indignantly banned by their significant other.
My job in the library is at the café, that’s why I have to get there so early in the mornings, but I don’t mind it one bit. I flick on the lights in the small kitchen and throw my bag on the office chair. Once I set the old radio to the jazz station, I put on my apron and wash my hands, getting ready to bake some of my favorite things. First, were the white chocolate chip and raspberry scones. I measure out the flour, salt and baking soda into the sifter and then crack the eggs and add sugar into another bowl and mix it with the electric stand mixer. Then I combine everything and add in the raspberries and white chocolate chips with some special ingredients. Once everything is mixed, I use an ice scream scoop to line a couple baking sheets with the raw dough. I pop them in the oven and set the timer, and in the meanwhile repeat the recipe with different ingredients like blueberries, chocolate chips and coconut with brown sugar. Next come the quiches; eggs, garlic, spinach, cheese, tomatoes, green onions and other accoutrements I find in the refrigerator.
As the jazz music is playing in the near background my mind wanders to the man on the train. I’ve never talked to him, or made one second of eye contact, but I feel like I’ve known him my entire life. There was no wedding ring on his finger, or sign of a significant other. I started imagining him in his home, which I envisioned as a swanky flat, with a minimalistic flair. He has an old record player in the corner with various Ukrainian artists. He only drinks his coffee black and reads the arts section of the newspaper occasionally wandering to current news and the politics section. Maybe he has a large dog and a love for old French cinema, complete with a wall covered in books from ceiling to floor, none of which collecting dust. Or maybe he does live with another woman. I imagine her looking like Brigitte Bardot. She was tall, and slender, with beautiful long blonde hair that is always perfectly styled. I come back to reality as the smell of the scones wafts towards me and I walk over to take them out of the oven. Turning down the temperature, I put the quiches in the oven and start arranging the pastries on ceramic plates.
It’s now six thirty a.m. and I start to make the coffee and prepare the espresso machine. The library opens at eight, so it gives me enough time to sneak a scone and have a couple cups of coffee while finishing another book. My goal when I started working at the library is to read every single book in the building, so I’m about an eighth through the “A” authors. Taking the last sip of coffee that I usually flavor with some cinnamon and cream, I add beans to the espresso machine and start pouring shots until they come out perfect. Boris comes up to the counter and asks how I’m doing. Great, I reply, sleepily. I make him his usual double espresso with a dollop of whip cream. Boris inherited the library from his father who fell in love with literature when he met Nabokov at a café in Austria who introduced him to a world he had never known before. Natalya, the other girl who works at the café with me swears Boris is in love with me, but I find his dorkiness too annoying sometimes. He tries to give me a wink, which ends up with both of his eyes closing and walks over to the front door to unlock it. I roll my eyes and go back to the oven to take out the quiches.
Finally the library opens and the usual hustle and bustle begins with the morning customers who stop by to get their fix before a stressful day at the office. Today felt uncomfortably different. With the rain pounding outside, every customer seemed to be mentally preoccupied by his or her thoughts. I didn’t receive as many thank yous as usual and even got a scoff from my favorite customer Pavel for letting the espresso pour one too many seconds long. I was surprised at the hostility but shrugged it off and started cleaning off the tables in the middle of the library. As I made my way to the corner armchairs I spotted the man from the train. He was sitting silently, taking a slow drag of his Spanish cigarette. I immediately craved one even though I quit about three months ago. He didn’t see me as I quickly passed by and when I got back to the café he was gone. This occurred a couple more times during the week. We had still not spoken.
It’s been six months since that week the man on the train showed up at the café. I became anxious every time I got to work. Slightly hoping that I would see him again and actually talk to him this time. This time turned into next time and so on. He wasn’t on the train as frequently as he used to be. This week he wasn’t on it even once. I began to worry for the stranger who had captivated me. I decided today would be the day I talked to him.
When I got on the train to go home there was a small package occupying my usual seat. I picked it up and looked around the train. I was alone. Slowly, I untied the string and opened the package. Inside were a letter, at least thirty photos and an invitation to the funeral. As I read it I felt my eyes well up with tears and wiped them with the back of my hand. When I finished the letter an immense stillness came over me and I smiled to myself. The man on the train had been my father. He wrote that he found out he was sick and wanted to tell me but wasn’t sure how to. He started taking the train when he found out I was still living in Kiev in hopes that we would eventually converse. This last week he had found out he wasn’t going to live and asked his brother to leave the package for me. I grew up with a single mother who never spoke of my father. She moved to the states about ten years ago to pursue her acting career and left me to live with her sister. Once I was of age I left and moved into an old flat in the middle of the city.
I started looking through the photos and there he was, smiling so wide and holding my hand as I held my mothers in front of school on my first day. He looked the same as he had looked on the train; he had to have been around thirty in this photo. My mother looked beautiful, tall, with dark hair and sparkling blue eyes. The next photo was of me sleeping in our old apartment before my mother left. I started searching my brain for moments that my father was there and couldn’t find one. I finished looking through the rest and put the photos back in the small package and clutched it close to my chest. I couldn’t believe that he was gone, but the memory of him will never be forgotten. Although he was a stranger to me, he had come back to life that very day on the train, as though he was sitting right beside me. And we had finally spoken to each other as though we had never stopped. I smiled to myself and the train arrived at my stop, but I stayed on and rode it until it turned back around to start its route again. This was my final exit.
Originally written December 16, 2011