Set me up just to turn me loose, I think that’s what the song said, though I don’t really remember. The lyrics were washed out in the blast of wind, my earbuds were no match for the local train headed into the city. I hung out the doors and bathed in the humid air of early evening.
I can still feel the kiss of the wind, and the kiss of the girl who waited for me smoking outside the station gate. I can see the pinks and purples reflected in the bay, and a glimpse of the big bridge when we crossed the creek before my station. I remember an old man in a bar telling me that’s how you know you’ve reached one of the stations on either side of the creek, just wait for the smell and you know you’re there.
I can feel my shoe catch the concrete as I hopped off the still-moving train. I can remember trying to time it perfectly. If the train was going too fast my clumsy ass could end up going face-first into the platform, too slow and the whole experience was for not. I’d watch the first few people go and listen to the whine of the electric motor winding down. Then I’d throw caution to the wind. Sometimes I’d stumble, but when I caught it right it was perfection.
I can see the crowds, I can feel the hustle and shoving. I can smell the cologne and the sweat. I can see the pan spit being launched in crimson blobs towards the walls. I remember walking down through the ticket office, stuffed with people only begrudgingly in lines, all cheek to jowl and ass to crotch all pushing to get to the office window to get their ticket. I’d walk past the polished obsidian plaque that memorialized in gold and sadness the bombing that once turned this place of humdrum and quotidian commuting into a hell of shrapnel and blood.
Then in the mass of people and vendors, I saw a beauty that could silence the cacophony of taxi horns and overloud conversation. She stood in her colorful kurta, weight shifted on one leg, cigarette in her hand, held in front of her face in a provocative way. She’d lock eyes with me, smile, and take a drag.
I’d walk up and she’d give me shit for being late. Blame the Western Railway, I’d say laconically, failing to hide the smile that crossed my face every time our eyes met. Around me, the chaos fell into harmony, in her eyes the very fulcrum of the universe balanced and the orbit of the heavens fell into perfect synchronicity.
It’s been years, but those brown eyes still float at the edge of my consciousness, and the memory of her smile still brings a mirrored reaction to the corners of my mouth. Of my memories of that place, of that time, of the world and I at that point, it isn’t the food, nor the sights, nor the fucking Taj Mahal, it’s her memory that comes to my mind when I harken back to those days.