“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”-Confucius
I finally know what the phrase, silence is deafening means.
We’re the only two people on the platform and my train car feels miles away. Normally this would have had all the makings of a romantic goodbye. I’d pull her in close and promise to see her again soon, and we’d seal it with a passionate kiss the second before the train pulled away. But this reality is the opposite of that. This is excruciating. The only sound I hear is the echoing of Jess’s high heels tapping sadly down the platform.
I’ve officially run out of things to say, even all forms of small talk have seemed to have deserted me. With each step, the lump of guilt in my throat grows larger. Jess is quiet too, but for a much different reason. She’s sad I’m leaving, fearful that she’ll never see me again. How could you blame her? I’m a nomad after all with no plans to ever return to Perth.
Every time I look over at her the tears she’s fighting back seem to get closer to the edge of her eyes.
Now I find myself in a real pickle. Not only do I need to be fair to Jess and end things with her right now, but I should probably also tell her that I met someone else. Here’s the kicker, it’s going to sound bat-shit crazy when I try to explain to her that I have no idea who the person is that I just fell for in the hotel elevator.
The further down the platform we get, the quieter it grows.
I think to myself, How am I going to get myself out of this mess?
When we finally get to car 11, I know it’s time to tell her. I set my bags down on the platform and take both of her hands in mine; the lump in my throat blocks my breath. Then, just as I’m about to explain myself and lay it all out there, she asks the closest conductor, “Can I board the train with him?”
There’s no way on earth he’ll say yes.
“Sure, just make sure you get off when the whistle blows.”
I give him a sideways look and my eyes say, “Thanks buddy, you just made this that much harder than it already is.”
I wheel my bag down the aisle to seat R, and then lift it up to the storage space above my seat. Which is where it will stay for the next two nights. I look around the cabin; it’s not even a quarter full. Not many people are choosing to travel across the country by train anymore since all economy class seating has been removed from the Indian Pacific as of this year. The Australian government cut over $9 million in funding from the Federal Government that subsidized the travel costs of pensioners, veterans and seniors. In doing so, the fares have quadrupled, even for backpackers like me. It would have been cheaper for me to fly across the country, but that’s the last thing I’m worried about right now.
I’m worried about breaking her heart. It’s a delicate task that needs to be done just right.
Jess helps me settle into my seat like she’s tucking me into bed. She wants to make sure I have all the snacks and books I’ll need for the journey. She even went out and bought me a special travel pillow.
Why does she have to be so sweet!
She sits in the empty seat next to me and then leans in and says, “I haven’t been able to trust anyone with my heart since my divorce, until now. Thank you.” Then she kisses my cheek.
What I haven’t said about Jess yet is that she just went through an agonizing divorce the past two years. Her husband at the time, the only man she’s ever been with, put her through hell, which would be too personal to share here. But I know for a fact that this is the first time she’s let her guard down since.
I can’t do this to her.
Just having been through my own heartbreak this past year, which is nothing compared to what’s she’s gone though, I can empathize with how she feels. It’s not easy to open your heart back up and allow love to come in after it’s been broken. As I look over at those liquid blue eyes of hers, I just can’t find a way to get the words out.
Why can’t I just be happy with her? She’s perfect! She’s intelligent, she’s beautiful, she’d be a great partner and mother. Plus, my parents would love her. What is wrong me?
I can’t help but think back to my time in India, which was a little over five years ago. I had spent the week seeing New Delhi with a taxi driver named Rajinder, (the most enlightened person I’ve ever met). He would shuttle me all around the city in his beat up white Hyundai. We’d often stop for tea and naan in between the sights and he’d answer my deepest questions about the meaning of life like it was nothing. Every night after he would drop me off at my hotel he would return to the tent in which he lived, behind the headquarters of the taxi company he was employed by.
Towards the end of my trip he drove me three hours south to Agra. When I was in the parking lot of the Taj Mahal with him I said, “let me run up to the ticket booth and get us two tickets.”
He said in his half Indian half English accent, “It’s okay I don’t want to go in.”
“It’s my pleasure to buy you a ticket, but I’m sure you’ve already been inside a million times.”
“I’ve driven hundreds of tourists here, but I’ve actually never been inside.”
“Okay great, then I will definitely get you a ticket and we can experience it together.”
“I cannot go in just yet my friend.”
Confused, I remember leaning up against Rajinder’s dust riddled taxi as he explained, “I’ve been here hundreds of times and yes this is the only thing my eyes want to see, it is the jewel of India after all. But when I was a teenager I made a promise to myself and to my future wife that I cannot break. You see the Taj Mahal is a temple built out of love. Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, built it as a tomb for his wife and I have made the vow to not go inside and lay my eyes upon it until she, whoever she is, is by my side.”
I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe he had the self-discipline to not go inside even if it was just for a quick peak. The Taj Mahal is widely regarded as the most beautiful building in the entire world and it gets nearly 8 million visitors a year. People save up a lifetime to travel all the way to India just to see it. But here he is, just feet from the entrance nearly every week and yet he’s never broken the promise he made to a woman he’s never even met.
At the time, Rajinder was in the beginning stages of entering into an arranged marriage. His parents had picked out his bride in their local village in Northern India and her parents had paid the dowry, which was a goat if I remember correctly. He had never seen her, but he was smitten when he talked about her. The wedding was set for later that summer and he couldn’t wait to bring her to the Taj Mahal one day.
And yet here I am 35 years old, with the perfect woman in front of me and all I want to do is end things. Why can’t I just be happy like Rajinder? Why don’t I want to stay in one place, settle down, and do the whole white picket fence thing? Nearly all my friends are married, but yet here I am falling in love with some mysterious voice I heard in an empty elevator.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me?
I actually wish the shoe was on the other foot. I almost think it’s easier to have your heart broken than to break someone else’s, because at least then you have no control over it, you just have to accept the fact that the other person no longer wants to be with you and then just try to find a way to move on.
Yes, I’ll admit that having your heart broken sucks, but I’m telling you this feels ten times worse. I feel like I’m holding Jess’s beating heart in my hands. A heart that’s so vulnerable, so giving, so ready for love. A heart that’s finally starting to trust again and now it’s my job to re-break it.
But this is what I get; this is the consequence of leading someone on. Even though I didn’t mean to do it, I did.
Okay, its time. I can’t do this to her anymore.
Ever since I quit my job two years ago I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what I’m supposed to be. A photographer? A filmmaker? A writer? A nomad? A corporate slave? A seeker? A leader? A follower? But maybe I should start with something simple, like being a good person.
I clear my throat, but it still waivers as I spit out, “Jess, there’s something I need to tell you.”
She cuts me off and pleads, “Please don’t go, I have an idea! You can get off the train and stay with me or better yet, I’ll see if I can still buy a ticket and I’ll come with you!”
I brush her long blonde hair back, “Jess, I really have to tell you something.”
I take a long pause then gather up the courage to rip the Band-Aid off.
“I think its best if we…”
The trains whistle interrupts and blows excruciatingly loud. As it hits three times like a trumpet it drowns out my voice.
My head dips.
The conductor quickly sidles down the aisle as our departure is imminent and politely asks Jess to leave.
As we pull away, I press my hand up against the window and watch her tears fall like rain. My world begins to move, hers set to remain the same.