"So what are you going to say?"
The question hung in the air for a moment before finally reaching my ears; not that my ears were the question's destination, but rather my dulled mind. In that time, whole minutes must have passed because the person before me made a face of mild annoyance at my unusually slow response.
And then I woke-up.
I lay in bed and remained there for another couple of minutes as I let my waking senses return to me from the dream world I had just left. I also seized this opportunity to remember as much of the dream as possible, before I had to get out and start the daily grind. As the world slid into focus, only one event returned to me: a nameless face, asking me that last question.
It stayed with me as I had my breakfast - 3 slices of muffin splits, either buttered or strawberry-jammed - even up to the time that I boarded the train to work.
"So what am I going to say?" I repeated the question to myself, over and over again.
Recalling the dream, it wasn't all that spectacular. Normal events in my dreams include me flying on pure willpower alone, or traversing star systems to hunt-down galactic criminals. My dreams have never let the laws of physics or reality govern them, but they always did present to me things that I didn't have time during my waking hours to really think about. An old example came to mind: my friend and neighbour coming over to give us some free samples of a new Pizza Hutt food. I learned the following day that my friend's dad worked at Pizza Hutt.
Last night's dream however was a simple one, about a single idea and it's impact on everyone else. And now it was asking me to decide, that should Gemma and Simon ever get married, what would I say to Gemma?
2. The commute
I've never been particularly fond of our public transport system; Tranz Metro's trains are infamous for their lateness and delays. So much so that they offered a service to send your cell phone a text message if there were any planned delays or 15-minute-late trains. If you were to gauge my friendships by the number of text messages I have received, Tranz Metro and I would seem like the best of pals.
Learning a lesson from other passengers - members of the 9-5 40-hours-a-week workforce - I've made it a habit to always bring a book with me to and from work. The sci-fi, fantasy, and detective murder/mystery stories I've been reading have helped to stir my imagination, and make for a good way to pass the time as the train makes it's way to the city.
I brought-out my own book - The Last Guardian of Everness, by John C Wright - and opened it up where the bookmark, the Wellington Central Library receipt, lay jutting-out from the pages. I continued to read about the story's struggle between good and evil.
I didn't read many pages before I got distracted.
At the last stop before taking the express route to the city, Kate Smith - a schoolmate since primary school - and her brother, as well as a middle-aged man whose face drew stares of mild recognition from me, boarded and sat nearby. At first I only saw Kate and proceeded to lightly kick her as she walked by to grab her attention. We smiled at eachother as a greeting before she found herself a seat on the train. I was glad she turned-away to sit down as I fear that I look like a grinning idiot if I hold a smile for too long. She was one of those people who could bring that out of me, and I felt a pang of jealousy for not being as photogenic as her.
Her brother found a free seat further down the carriage. Meanwhile, the man I recognized sat beside me and started talking to Kate, who finally settled for the seat directly across from the man and I. I kept my face pointed towards my book, but my eyes wandered for a profile view of the man's face as I tried to gather just a little more information to help my brain identify and put a name to him.
The closest answer I had was Glen Randell's dad. It looked a lot like him, but there was enough doubt in my mind to question the result.
Coming into Redwood School about a quarter-way through my final primary school year, I learned that many parents of the kids, having spent many years with eachother, knew the families of the other kids. Glen and Kate were both from my class. If their families knew eachother it would not have been a surprise to me. Moving to the school in that final year didn't give me much time to know the families of those in my class. I wasn't an outcast during those years, but I wasn't completely in either.
Pushing the past aside, I turned back to my book.
3. Wellington Weather
Off the train, Kate and I smiled at eachother once again, and this time I broke the gaze by turning towards the path that would lead me to my work, while she and her brother took another path towards university.
A handful of steps went by before I started thinking about the dream's question again. Several possibilities came to mind over the course of that short walk.
Maybe I could take the standard approach and simply say congratulations, along with a sentence of well wishes. Maybe I could be overly joyous and say congratulations with several exclamations of happiness.
Neither of the responses seemed uniquely me, so I dropped the thought once again.
The city of Wellington is notorious for it's aggressive weather patterns. Today was only mildly different.
I exited the halls that lead from the Wellington trainyard and stepped-out into the atmosphere I've affectionately called 'the skybox'. A skybox is actually a term used from computer games where the game is played from the inside of a seemingly infinite-sized box, and the inside faces of the box are painted with a simple-looking sky. Wellington resembeled the skybox with it's plain gray cloud cover completely obscuring the blue skies that hid somewhere behind them, making the distance between myself and the heavens immeasurable.
The brick-paved path laid before me was only a slightly darker brown and terracotta colour, signs of the rainfall from the night before. I was half-expecting a glint of reflected light from the wet grass that surrounded the brick pathway, but was disappointed as the skybox had also torn the morning sunlight from the sky.
4. A short long lunch
Some days the answer of knowing what to eat and where to spend my next almost-hour comes to me in an instant.
Not today however, and figuring-out what to fill my stomach with was almost as difficult as solving a quadratic equation.
For these situations however, I had a back-up plan: walk to the BNZ Food Court and see which eaterie there piques my interest.
I never got that far before running into another familiar face.
Linda. Originally acquaintences through a mutual friend, we became friends to eachother over the past 4 years as fate constantly conspired to put us on the same train going to and from university. We share little in common except for the familiarity of eachother's company, and having our minds occupied with ideas on how to get revenge on those who have crossed us in the past. If Linda had the resources, she'd probably put her plans into motion. There are no rewards for being on her bad side.
Linda is a year my senior in maturity, with a realistically cheerful disposition and always a pleasant tone in her voice. She spotted me as she walked in the opposite direction and proceeded to pull-aside to a shoulder lane for my direction of traffic.
As my short-sightedness finally caught-up with the figure ahead, I recognized her first by her blond half-curled hair. You could see she tried to straighten it up, but the taming of her natively frizzy hair was only partly successful.
We had lunch at Midland Park, talked about the months between now and our last meeting, exchanged e-mail addresses, and said our farewells. It's days like that which make me think that my lunch breaks are always too short.
The nagging question from my dream once again arose in my mind. This time, I had some ammunition to fire against it.
Linda is engaged, the first friend of mine to have been, and from my chance encounter I relived the moment of when I was told of her engagement. That memory gave me an idea, that I had to do something different. For Linda, I was overjoyed at the news. So maybe for Gemma, I could do quite the opposite. Not sadness, but some other emotion.
I had finally narrowed it down.
For the 3rd time that day, I pushed the question aside. Only this time I was closer to my response.
5. 2nd floor: stationary, notebooks, Sheree
Friday; the day of the week that I get to see a friend with almost 100% certainty, although today's encounters seemed to have raised my chances almost three-fold. If I knew my luck was gonna hold-up for another day I would've bought a Lotto ticket.
Sheree works in Whitcoulls, which has a public access elevator that I use to go to and from work every day. On Fridays, Sheree can be found there, and I make it a point to see her after work just to talk about the events of the week passed.
Instead of the elevator, I take the stairs from the street above down to her floor. As I walk out the door I am soon surrounded by shelves of books and office supplies. Colourful children's books line the wall to my left where a mother is making a decision on what book to get her child. A high school student looks carefully at the variety of empty notebooks before her. I make my way across the floor, making a quick sweep to see if I can locate Sheree.
Some days I can't find her, and walk back to the trains somewhat disheartened. It almost looked like that today as I approached the in-store stairway to take them down to street level. But right there before I hit the first step, I find her and a workmate, with their backs to me, facing a Staff Only door, standing and staring before it as if expecting it to reveal the meaning of life.
"Hi Sheree. What are you doing?" I ask.
"Hi Eeeeehhhmmm." she replies, still facing the door. "It's broken!" she complains, then pressing buttons on the keypad lock of the door but without results.
She withdraws her hand from the keypad and gives-up. Even with her back to me I can see the disappointment on her face caused by the broken door. She turns to face me and any look of annoyance is no longer evident on her happy youthful face.
Although having turned 21 a few months ago, Sheree maintains a child-like and almost playful demeanour. Even when she's being serious, if I didn't know the year she was born, I would've thought that she was still a teenager.
Starting with the broken door, we talk about the events since our last meeting, which wasn't much. When asking any other working-class person how they've been, you tend to get the same answer over and over. Sheree steered the conversation away from the broken door.
"Hey, did you know Gemma's engaged?" she blurted-out.
"Oh?" was all I could say, faking surprise in my voice.
For some reason, the news just didn't stir any genuine astonishment in me. I had been thinking all day of what I was going to say to Gemma in such a situation that, along the way, the fiction didn't seem too far from the truth. If there was any hint of bewilderment in my last sentence, it was from having heard the news from Sheree.
"Yeah, I heard it from Michelle's sister." she continued to say.
"Pretty weird having to hear that news from you Sheree."
"I know! I mean, I don't know why Ingrid told me; Gemma and I don't really know eachother."
I could see what she meant. The age differences between the people I associate with created some sort of moat, dividing us into several subgroups separated by age and held together by a few chance meetings here and there. I guess Sheree hearing the news was like being told an uncle's second cousin's adopted daughter ran into some money.
"Funny you should tell me that news though Sheree." I said with a scheming little smirk.
I told her about my dream and the events of the day.
"You're psychic Em!"
Sometimes I wish I was.
6. The 5:30 home
Sitting on the train again, twirling my new cellphone in my hands, I look back at the small front LCD display, then the smooth plastic on the back, as I slowly spin between them. Screen, back, screen, back...
Looking elsewhere on the train, I once again find myself surrounded by the 9-to-5 40-hours-a-week crowd. The darkness of the tunnel tries to hide the details and creases in their faces, but the dim lighting fights back to accentuate those lines of age or fatigue. Despite the weary facade, in their eyes I can see a glimmer of relief as the train carries our work-hardened souls to the beginning of our weekends.
I turn back to the cellphone in my hands. I had to replace my old one not too long ago after it suffered from cellphone impotency: it kept sending out blank text messages. A couple of times I used to get replies from people asking if that last message was supposed to blank. 3 times from memory. 3 times too many.
The new phone was much sleeker, smaller, made of a silver plastic, with an in-built camera which I'll never used, and a cool flip-open clamshell design. The main reason I got it was just because it flips-open.
I flipped the phone open. The novelty of doing that still hasn't worn-off. I flipped the phone closed, just so I could open it again.
[New Text Message]
[To: Phone Book Entry]
The cursor blinked several times as I drew-upon a little courage to start writing my message: my answer to this morning's question and the words I would say to Gemma. I always hope that my messages don't get taken too seriously, that the recipient knows it's just me being silly, me being me. I sometimes wonder if my sorts of text messages would likely have broken a couple of social rules anywhere else.
The screen then darkened to save power. Better start writing it now.
When I was done, I re-read the message, just to make sure it was correct.
Ah darnit, there goes any chance I ever had with you :P