The Idle Traveler

A gray wall flashed in a blur outside the window, with occasional wires striping its surface. Sage had always hated traveling underground, it made her feel buried, but in a city of this density there were few other means of efficient transportation. The few times she’d come to this city, she’d had company to converse with. This night was a solo voyage however, one her grandmother hadn’t been too keen on her taking. 

Sage searched the compartment. An old woman sat knitting by the exit; by her side was a child, possibly her grandchild, who played on his phone, mesmerized by the pretty colors on the screen. The pair reminded Sage of an old superstition her own grandmother believed in. It was something about traveling with an idle mind. 

The idle traveler gets led astray. 

Sage would always be given some arduous task to stay occupied: count the lights that passed by outside or say the alphabet backwards in her head. Such busyness keeps the mind too tired to wander. It was baseless superstition, no doubt something her grandmother made up to get Sage to sit quietly on the train as a child. 

The train came to a stop. The platform seemed nearly deserted. One lonely bulb lit the concrete island, giving light to only the few feet surrounding it. 

As the doors closed, a man stepped into the train. He was nearly caught between the mechanisms of the door, which seemed to pay him no mind. The sentiment was mutual as he kept an even pace, squeezing into the compartment, unbothered by the metal frame that tried to crush him moments before.  He saw that Sage was watching him, nodded politely and took his seat on the other side of the compartment. She returned a polite smile before continuing her observation of her remaining company. 

The old woman was scolding her grandchild now, as the latter put away his phone. The child whined, but the woman’s insistent complaints brought the phone back out. The child fixed his gaze back on the screen, less captivated by what’s on it than avoiding what’s not. The woman too seemed anxiously fixated on her needles as they clicked together. 

Sage turned to the man, to see if the lone traveler was also uneasy. He simply sat calmly meditating on the floor of the subway. His platinum hair was slicked back, revealing a wide forehead with a sharp widow’s peak. He sat with a slight slouch, blinked periodically and swayed slightly with the train. A sudden stop might toss him out of his seat. The scarlet sweater he wore hung loosely over his frame, giving him the look of a scrawny Victorian child that had managed to live to his twenties. His tired eyes, that were hollowed with thin green veins pressing against his eyelids, studied the space before him. Sage was not entirely sure what his gaze was fixed on. 

Stirring from his stillness, the man yawned delicately, covering his mouth with long fingers. The seconds between the gesture, Sage caught a glimpse of stained yellow teeth that stood out starkly against his pink mouth. They were a deeper yellow than one would expect from a coffee addict, and perfectly straight and sharp. She stared for longer than what may have been polite, and was caught. 

Ashamed of her blunt rudeness, Sage averted her gaze. She searched for an object of interest to focus on until the heat died down from her ears. In her search for another party to focus on, she realized the old woman and the boy were no longer present. They must have departed at the previous stop. 

A voice spoke over the speakers, informing the two remaining passengers that the train was approaching its last stop. With a start, Sage realized she hadn’t been paying mind to the last several stops. A glance at the map told her she would have fared better if she’d glanced at it ten minutes ago, for this was the last train to run for the night and she was several miles away from her destination. 

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