I started this story a few years ago in a Roomers workshop. We were using the Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem ‘I Am Waiting’ as a writing prompt. I posted a version here in November 2015. This week I’ve been revisiting the piece.
He’s waiting for the tram, at the junction. It’s the last of the night, and it’s late. All the while cars stream by. He wonders where people are going at this hour. Why’s he the only one waiting for a tram. Lights change, cars stop, drivers and passengers stare. He stares back, sizing up. Drivers wait for green, hands poised on sticks and levers. But their passengers look passive. Or pained. Resigned to a dreadful fate, like animals to a slaughter. But these aren’t imprisoned creatures. They could open their doors while stopped at the lights. Unbuckle their belts. Get out, join him at the stop, and together they’d wait. Point at the drivers left alone and ridiculous in their huge cars.
Someone else arrives at the stop. They stand behind and he senses them checking him out, and his neck and scalp prickle with expectant heat. He looks round, and the new arrival turns away.
This turning away irks him. It would be natural, wouldn’t it, to let on. Maybe a smile. There’s only the two of them at the stop. A smile gets a smile, usually. So maybe they both smile, and then laugh at the silliness of initial unease, and so begins a halting conversation.
But instead this other moves away, checks the timetable on the stand, looks at their phone. Affects nonchalance, but not very convincing. Looks again at the phone, glances up the tracks in the direction of the tram’s expected approach, frowns. And then seems to come to an easy decision and walks away. Then stops after a few steps and turns and smiles, lips and teeth wet from the moon, then continues without looking back again, getting smaller then disappearing into the underpass.
If he were to run, to follow into the underpass, the tram might come, and the last of the night never waits. The drivers see an empty shelter and go by, in a hurry to get to the depot.
The mouth of the underpass. From here it’s a blank hole. Maybe they’re inside, in the darkness, or hidden at the mouth, watching and waiting. He thinks of those lips, wet and lit by moonlight.
Still no sign of the tram. Maybe it’s not coming. It has to come. They’re often late, that’s all, especially at this hour. He takes a step, towards the underpass, to test fate, to see if it brings the tram. He starts walking. There’s a point where he’ll be able to get back to the stop in time if the tram rounds the corner. But there’s a point where he won’t. He passes that point, committed to a course, and considers what he’s expecting ahead. And then he hears the rattle of wheels on tracks, metal to metal, here it comes, and he watches it sail past and past the stop and on to the next one. There’ll be no one waiting in the underpass, and he doesn’t even bother to check. He turns and heads for home.