Fleeting, isn’t it?
That’s what he would say. It was the perfect turn of phrase, it sounded both nonchalant and intriguing at the same time – really off the cusp, as some say. It most definitely did not sound like he had been sitting there for the past hour on the train trying to think of it. It was simply an observation that was both interesting enough to provoke further conversation (this being the ultimate goal) and casual enough to make him seem cool (this being the secondary goal). It was just the right thing to say to her. Her, who sat diagonally across the aisle from him, with long auburn hair that was neatly contained into a ponytail and slung across her shoulder, just brushing past her chest. Her, who had lips that silently mouthed the words of her book – On The Road by Jack Kerouac – a perfectly wonderful clichéd choice he thought, for a mid twenty something traveller. Her, she, the girl with the big brown eyes seeing the world in big gulps through the plexiglass train windows would most definitely appreciate his turn of phrase.
Fleeting, isn’t it?
He was talking about the train of course. How the drawn out landscapes and country homes in between Germany and the slew of Eastern European countries to follow seemed to glide past him. There one minute, gone the next. It was as if the train was rushing to meet them, those images, but they were always out of reach. He had been looking out across a field of wheat, (at least he thought it was wheat – could be canola?) when the word came to him as fast as the vast wave of gold grain swam past the window. Fleeting. It was the perfect word. He knew exactly how he was going to say it to her, one hand leaning on the empty chair across from her, the opposite hand in his pocket, nonchalantly. It was so clever because she would have to say “What is?” or “What’s fleeting” or “What do you mean?” any of them would work, and then the conversation would grow organically from there. Eventually he would ask if he could join her, then ask if she wanted a drink or anything to eat from the food trolley (like a real gentlemen), she might politely refuse but ultimately give in because a traveller’s budget can always accommodate free food. He would ask her what she was doing in Europe and they would bond over the similarity of backpacking – how you feel when you travel alone etc. etc. etc. it was all really the same answers, the same questions everywhere. When they were nearing her destination he would help her with his bag (a real gentlemen) and then ask, really off the cusp, “Hey, just an idea, but what if I joined you for the day?” She would be inclined to say yes. But in all honesty, he hadn’t thought about it much.
that’s all he could think of now as the train pulled into the station in Prague. Her, across from him, slipped a bookmark into the already dog-eared page of On The Road and tucked the paperback copy into the open pouch of her backpack. She began to pack up the rest of her belongings, sweater, scarf, a maze of tangled earphones. He began to panic. He hadn’t anticipated that she would get off so soon. Well – it wasn’t really soon, it had been hours since he had left Berlin. Had it really taken him this long to think of the word fleeting? Never mind, she was about to get off now, backpack on, straps being adjusted, and her copy of On The Road safely zipped away inside layers on nylon. He got up just as the food trolley was coming down the aisle, narrowly missing an older lady stepping into the aisle and carrying on. He helped the old lady grab her bag off the overhead shelf (a real gentlemen) and then turned around to see her, the girl with auburn hair, walk off the train. He watched her walk onto the platform, pull out a pocket size map of the city and begin to make her way to the exit. Her hair still tucked into a ponytail and her big brown eyes, yes, they were definitely brown, tracing over the map, her body getting lost in the crowd of tourists and locals, families with running children and commuting workers.