Transit pulls in. Body rocks with the cease of forward momentum. Doors shunt open. I file out, part of a silent crowd, shoulder to shoulder in the familiar routine. We shuffle our way along the platform, towards the exit tunnel. Towards the office blocks that house us for the day.
Sluggish thoughts coast through the fog of my sleep-addled mind, a disappointed review of how things turned out. How the small ember of hope, a thrill felt only two weeks ago, could already be a snuffed-out smear. Another charcoal smudge on the mottled grey walls of my romantic life. Smothered before it could even burn.
The crowd shifts at the exit to the platform, aligning with the adjoining corridor, funnelled into an angular, tiled tunnel. Flat walls, flat floor, flat ceiling. Hard-worn tiles on each surface. Once gleaming white, now matted by the massage of millions. Stained in greys and brown, dirt collecting in cracks and corners. Our half-steps are forced, the many people coordinating their shuffle through the terminal. Overhead lighting strips cast a weak white illumination on us. Shadows shift in time to our gentle, swaying progress.
We met at a party, as familiar faces seen through the crowd. Shared glances and chemistry re-found in remarkably comfortable conversation. We had been on a date a couple of years ago, and it hadn’t worked out. She had said, by comm, that she thought I was looking for different things – though we never spoke about it in person. I had felt like she thought I wasn’t enough for her. Whatever. There, that night a couple of weeks ago, we found some familiar spark, and by the end of the night we kissed. We agreed to try to date, again.
It is another cold morning in a long line of cold mornings, and the commuting crowd reach the end of the tunnel, where it rises in a series of steps. The already-slow pace drops further. We adjust to the climb. One step at a time, slow and steady. Most people are dressed in subdued winter colours. Packs mounted on backs or on shoulder straps contain the gear that each commuter deems necessary for the day ahead. I vaguely wonder what each contains. Almost everyone is dressed in blacks, browns, greys. In the dimmed light of the terminal, even those daring to wear a splash of colour looks drab. Reds look faded. Yellows are washed out. Blues blur into the dull greys.
The first date we had was a couple of drinks. We tried to find the rhythm of conversation, but it had that first-date awkwardness that I recalled from the first time, two years ago, but which was absent at the party. Still, we talked for hours in an underground bar – exposed brick and the central-city crowd around us. Suits and skirts, shirts and blouses. All black, grey or white. No one in, here, dares break the status-quo on dress code. Might mean less credits. She drank wine, I drank stim. At the end of the night, we walked to the terminal, kissed, and went our separate ways.
In messaging across the week, I noticed the downturn. What had been excitable and flirtatious between the party and the first date quickly became routine. Disinterested.
Halfway up the stairs, between piping and conduits that run along the walls, I notice stickers. Eco-activists, band promoters, club nights; small splashes of cheaply produced anonymous flare, stuck on tiled surfaces between deep-clean cycles. I don’t think I’ve ever really registered the details, glazed-over eyes acknowledging, but not digesting, the alt-punk aesthetic. Even seeing them again, today, I still don’t make note of them. I wonder what underground events I miss.
Our final date was only days ago. We sat in a simple but clean food joint, one that overlooks the dark waters flowing through the middle of Citadel. Over her shoulder, on the far shore, the financial district’s tall towers lit up the night. Over mine, in the distance, the towers of the Investor’s Quarter illuminated her view. Our conversation was harder this time, I couldn’t get her to open up. There was less enthusiasm in her voice, little interest in anything beyond small talk. After we ate, I picked up the bill on my credit account, and walked her back to the terminal. I suggested seeing a show sometime, trying to remember what people do on dates, but her answer was non-committal. All night, I could feel her slipping away. Stepping back, letting go.
We reach the top of the steps, and the crowd starts to spread out as options open up. Some are connecting to other transits, some taking other exits. The pace picks up as we make our way towards the cubicles that will contain our lives for another day. Though cold, the sky is a bright morning-blue. I pass through the automated gates and exit the terminal, following the shoulders and backs of those in front of me. I wonder how many of these I follow every day; people locked so far into their routine that they are in exactly the same place every day at exactly the same time; like the good robots we all pretend we are not.
She sent a message to my comm over the weekend, saying that she didn’t like dating and didn’t want to carry on with me. She felt we are looking for different things, even though we never talked about it.
She let go, before even giving it a chance, throwing up walls I couldn’t have seen coming. She decided that she didn’t want to try, and didn’t want to let me in.
I replied, asking her not end it so quickly. Not again.
Two blue ticks.