Kyle shifted in his seat. Wow, it was uncomfortable. He’d been on this train for ten minutes, and already he could barely stand it. And the smell? Jeez, it reeked. He wondered if these carriages were ever cleaned or air-conditioned or left with their doors opened for extended periods.
His grumpiness was probably the result of other things, including breaking up with his girlfriend, but sometimes, just sometimes, that grumpiness was worth revelling in. Now that they’d split, the rent was all his to pay. Thankfully he’d scored an audition, except auditions didn’t guarantee a job, so he supposed yeah, it was worth being a little grumpy at the moment.
It wasn’t quite peak hour. Just after. If he’d got on the train earlier, he’d had a bigger headache. Fortunately he’d found a seat in the lower section of the second carriage, and had tried to settle down. From Gosford to Sydney Central, it was about forty-five to fifty-five minutes, depending on which stations the train stopped at. He didn’t know whether this train would shoot through most of them.
He had his iPod in any case. He’d recharged the battery via his laptop last night so he could listen to as much music as he liked. He just hoped no love songs came up, and especially none of his ex’s favourites.
Five minutes later, more passengers appeared, hopping on from a station Kyle wasn’t aware of. He was on the opposite side of the station, he couldn’t see the signs. He didn’t care. He was just focused on his music.
He was listening to the soundtrack to the video game called Destiny when someone plonked themselves right opposite him. He groaned inwardly, but didn’t investigate. He wished he’d pulled the seat in front back so this person wouldn’t be knocking knees with him.
The train continued. A peculiar thing caught his eye at that moment. He understood that the person right in front of him had a green 3DS.
As discreetly as possible, his eyes darted up and down this person. It was a woman. She wore a professional skirt and a black blazer. She was playing her game with a stylus. Kyle tried not to look.
The funny thing was, he had his own 3DS as well. Yes, he was a gamer too. He just hadn’t thought to bring his portable console onto the train today. But he knew it would have been a great idea – at the audition, he could’ve easily just slipped it into his pocket.
Depressed from his short-sightedness, he turned his iPod off and looked out the window. What he wouldn’t give to be playing something likeGrand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.
The woman in front continued to play her 3DS. Eventually, Kyle pretended to stretch, giving him an excuse to look up into her face, to see if she was attractive.
What he saw stunned him.
Yes, she was pretty. She had makeup on, but not much. Mascara and lipstick and blush and concealer? Possibly. If she wasn’t wearing it, at least it didn’t appear obvious. She had blonde curls – oh god, he couldn’t believe it – they were beautiful. They framed her round face and made her look cute yet adult and prestigious. Almost like a princess.
“Pull yourself together, Kyle,” he said softly. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
He dropped his eyes. The woman in front of him burped.
“Oh jeez,” she said.
Kyle looked up. She was smiling at him. He smiled back.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I had to get that out of me.”
“No worries,” he told her. Then he searched for something else to say. “What are you playing?”
She bit her bottom lip. “Mario Kart 7.” She brought the stylus up to her mouth and sucked on it. “I’m having trouble.”
Kyle nodded. “I have Mario Kart 7,” he said truthfully.
“Yeah. Finished it a while ago.”
“Oh man, we could’ve played multiplayer!”
“Yeah, definitely, but I didn’t predict meeting you.”
She laughed. “Oh well. Who would want to meet a burping thirty-year-old?”
“You look younger.”
“So do you need help with Mario Kart?”
She studied her screen. “I’m on 150cc. Just the final few cups are giving me hell. If you could maybe win a medal in any of them …”
“Sure,” Kyle said. He took the 3DS from her. He got started.
At first their conversation centred around Mario Kart. What a lucky ice-breaker, Kyle thought. They both spoke intelligently about how 50cc and 100cc were way too easy, but as soon as you started playing 150cc, things got considerably harder, with your opponents in the Grand Prix somehow getting a huge speed boost, more than what was fair. She said her favourite racer was Yoshi. He told her there was no one better than Mario.
Then the pair started talking about the reason they were on the train today.
“Just work,” she said. “I’m just an accountant. I process tax claims. You?”
“I’m going to an audition, but if I’m being honest, I’m wasting my time. Otherwise, I generally act in local plays.”
“Oh wow. So what’s the audition for?”
“Honestly? I have no idea. Might be the next Mad Max movie.” “You wish,” she said with a smirk. “The last one just came out.”
“I know. But hopefully it will be a sci-fi. I like the idea of random alien costumes and all that.”
Looking down, he noticed he still held her 3DS. He handed it back.
“You play video games a lot?” he asked.
“It kills the commute. So yeah, always.”
She brushed her curls back with her hand.
“I’m pretty excited to meet someone like you,” she continued. She wouldn’t look at him anymore. “All I’ve ever wanted was to talk with someone about video games. I pull out the Nintendo on the train every day, and no one says a word about it. I’m a bit of a rabid gamer, as you could probably guess.”
“I am too,” Kyle admitted. “But it doesn’t usually attract the girls.”
“Well, listening to an iPod won’t do it either!”
He laughed. He looked down at the iPod in his lap. It had almost cost him this conversation.
“I grew up with video games,” he said. “Only now do I realise how happy they made me.”
She eyed him as though he was concealing something.
“I just broke up with someone,” he said.
She didn’t respond. Somehow he knew he had to speak next. “That doesn’t mean I’m off the market, too traumatised by it all.” “Are you assuming I’m interested in you?” she asked.
“No, no, no. I’ve just gotta get my head straight at the moment. I’m sorry. I can’t concentrate. It’s your curls.”
That was when she laughed and caught everyone’s attention on the carriage.
They talked a little longer, mostly about the video games they enjoyed the most, and how they both preferred the more controversial games, such as Grand Theft Auto. She said she didn’t have time for people who got all offended by fiction.
“It’s not real violence, no one’s getting hurt, so who cares,” she said.
He nodded, then: “And how often do you get a school shooting in this country, whether it’s motivated by video games or not?”
“Exactly. To hell with the stigma.”
“Just let me play whatever the hell I want to play.”
“That includes kiddie games like Mario Kart.” He saw the shock on her face, but it was phoney. Immediately his attraction towards her was confirmed. And yet he didn’t even know her name. He couldn’t recall if she’d asked him his name either.
The train ride was coming to an end. It had been a good conversation in the interim, but it was time to move on. They had places to be, things to do. And the fact of the matter was, no one in the history of the world become a couple from a forty-five minute train trip.
“Well, I’m Kyle,” he said, holding out his hand. “Good to meet you.”
She held out her hand. “Kendall,” she said, though there was very little energy in it.
Nevertheless, he continued the charade. “Maybe we’ll meet playing Mario Kart online.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” she said without conviction. She was now going through her purse. “Oh jeez.”
“What is it, Kendall?”
“I forgot to buy a ticket.”
“Oh no. Here, take mine. I’ll take the fine if I’m caught.”
“No, no. Can you just escort me through the wheelchair gate at Central and say you dropped the other ticket. Hold up yours, saying the other one was dropped. But only if they ask.”
“Sure,” he told her. “Yeah, that’ll work.”
Kyle wasn’t a fan of this plan, but he couldn’t deny he wanted to help her out, get her to her job efficiently. And there was something about her he knew he’d start missing for the rest of his life the moment he went through those ticket gates. He’d never see her again – he just wanted to remember doing something risky with her.
The train pulled into Central. Platform Eight. Kyle stood, and manoeuvred out of the seat, at which point his trouser leg brushed Kendall’s bare knee.
She got up too, and held his forearm from behind as he led her out of the train with the other passengers. They continued to walk, with Kyle leading the way and Kendall holding onto his forearm. She hadn’t asked to do this, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t sure what it represented, but it felt nice.
“Oh darn,” she said when she saw the ticket inspectors at the wheelchair gate.
“Stay calm,” Kyle said. “I’ll get you through this.”
They marched up to the wheelchair access, and quickly advanced, before a ticket inspector grabbed Kyle’s outstretched ticket.
“What’s this?” the inspector said, trying to find two tickets.
Kyle had expected him to simply view the ticket, not look for a second one that might be behind his.
“Where’s the other one?” the inspector said, pointing at Kendall.
“Um …” Kyle mumbled.
“RUN!” Kendall shouted.
They both ran, darting through the station, heading down the stairs with rapid clopping. Whether they were being chased or not, Kyle didn’t know. But he suspected they were being chased.
They made it to Elizabeth Street and ran north. After a hundred metres, they slowed down. Kendall still held Kyle’s arm. She was out of breath.
“Thanks for that,” she said. “I just … hadn’t been thinking earlier.”
“No worries,” Kyle lied. She understood he was unnerved.
“Allow me to buy you a coffee,” she said. “I don’t need to be at work yet.”
“Okay,” he said, ignoring the fact his audition was scheduled to begin in an hour.
They found a coffee shop and ordered. Then they found a seat.
Kyle studied his partner-in-crime once more, finding her so beautiful, but perhaps a little dumb based on her forgetting to buy a ticket. But as she was fiddling with her purse, he saw something.
“What the hell,” he murmured, reaching over to grab a train ticket she was in possession of.
She covered her mouth in fright. “Oh no.”
“You had this all along? And you risked getting a fine?”
He studied it, and it was definitely today’s train ticket.
“I didn’t know I had bought one!” she exclaimed.
“Do you think I’m stupid, Kendall?”
“Okay, okay, but you’re going to hate me.”
“For what?” he asked.
“The reason I pretended I didn’t have a train ticket. I wanted you to help me, to maybe run from the ticket inspectors were hanging around at Central. I wanted to run with you. To spend some time with you, to maybe have a reason to offer you a coffee.”
“We could have been fined two-hundred bucks, Kendall.”
“I know! I know! But even then you might stick around.”
“That’s crazy,” he said.
“I like you, Kyle.”
“I like you too. But just say it. Don’t do ridiculous things.”
“Can you forgive me?”
He pretended to grimace. “I’ll have to think about it … while we’re walking around the city.”
“Don’t you have an audition?”
“They like me. They’ll reschedule. It won’t make or break my career anyway. What about work?”
“I’ll call in sick.”
“Kyle,” she said. “I’m not going to work when I could spend a lovely day talking to you. I’ve got things to say, and you’re a good listener.”
“I’m just a guy,” he said.
“Whatever,” she said. “Just walk with me. I don’t have time for your excuses. Just walk with me.”
So he did.
They spent time in Hyde Park, sitting on the grass in the sun, talking a little about politics and religion, and how they were so often enmeshed in this current age. They spoke about their own beliefs, as most couples regularly did, but Kyle did become baffled by what Kendall was saying.
“I’m a gamer, and that’s my religion. Anyone don’t like it, then those people can get lost.” “You mean your only belief is playing video games?” he asked.
“Why can’t video games be a religion? Lots of people play games religiously. They aren’t necessarily a waste of time.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I experience something new and fresh each time. Through my ritual, my gaming experiences offer something that doesn’t get repeated. So it’s really not a ritual. It’s a unique experience. It’s euphoric and it’s dependable euphoria. Get it?”
He did understand. It was something he’d had trouble grasping before now. The religion of video games. A belief system, or even just the philosophy. An interactive Bible.
“In video game religion, you take control of your peace,” she said. “After all, my job is all number, numbers, numbers. I need to unwind somehow.”
Kyle couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re so weird.”
“I know, right? Anyway, I’m a little obsessed. Maybe I didn’t grow up properly.”
“Well, once you find a name for your religion, I’m joining. I feel like I need what you’re offering.”
Kendall smiled. Then she jumped up and took his hand. “Let’s visit a few shops and then walked across the Harbour Bridge.”
All they did was talk. Kyle made sure he never let go of her hand. He didn’t know why she allowed that. The whole time they were talking, whenever she let go, he would hold out his hand a second later, to catch hers. And for her, it seemed automatic, to link up with him once more. In that moment, his breathing became more rapid. The infatuation had become something more concrete.
Pretty soon, Kendall said the most intelligent thing that Kyle had ever heard anyone in this country said.
“If only our Prime Minister was a gamer,” she said. “I’m talking Frank Underwood from House of Cards. That kind of thing. Because you know why we keep changing leaders? It’s because our leaders aren’t cool. If they played video games, and they told us about their interest in video games, then that would speak volumes. They’d be cool in everyone’s eyes because we’d know they could chill out. I’m just saying. What do you think?”
Kyle was speechless.
They visited JB Hi-Fi at the Town Hall strip mall, but the demo console was playing a sports game – neither of them were interested in it. They browsed the games, music and movies, then they left and continued walking.
When they climbed the stone stairs that led up to the Harbour Bridge, the sun was setting. Kyle couldn’t believe how late it was.
“It’s beautiful,” Kendall said, observing the sun’s orange glow through the metal arch. They made their way towards the Milson’s Point station as leisurely as possible.
They still held hands, and they still didn’t let go.
“Oh darn,” she suddenly said. “I’ve got to rush back to my office building and pick up some paperwork. I really need to do it. I really need to grab it.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I can’t stay.”
“What should I do?” he asked.
Finally, she let go of his hand and took his face in her hands. Then she kissed him. He didn’t kiss back. He was too overwhelmed by her.
He recalled everything about her when they’d had their coffee in the small cafe in the middle of the city.
The way she bit her lip.
The way she checked her nails.
The slight head toss to move her curls off her face.
When her hand slid over her smooth leg. When she slurped on her coffee and giggled.
When she had one finger to her forehead, in deep concentration. When she chronically straightened her blouse to impress him.
The way she popped Juicy Fruit pellets into her mouth throughout the day. He tasted it when they kissed. He concluded only one thing.
She was perfect.
“Will we ever meet again?” he asked.
She took out a pen and piece of paper, writing down her phone number. “I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I told you I don’t,” he said.
Sadness entered her eyes. She looked at the ground. “If you don’t ring me, well, you know …”
“Yeah, I know,” he told her, acknowledging to himself that if he didn’t ring her, he’d be the biggest dope on the planet. “I’ll ring you.”
Then she turned and walked back in the direction they’d come. She needed to return to her office. He needed to catch the train home.
By Dan Spicer from Australia