Jordan adored meeting strangers and liked the entire enormity of the idea. She loved how she had to roll her tongue twice to pronounce the word “stranger” and the satisfying contrast between the ‘s’ and the ‘t’. The fact that there were billions of other functional human bodies, all with a beating heart intrigued her immensely. But what enchanted her most were strangers’ laughs.
Walking down alleys or making her way through overcrowded fish markets, her ears would perk up when they picked up different laughs: shy giggles, laughs behind hands or under breaths. It felt like a game of hide and seek. Then at home, with the laughs playing like a record in her mind, she would describe them with a pen on tiny slips of paper. These precious moments would accumulate in a jar that she kept under her bed. And well, of course, she knew the written artefacts could never express the true laugh with dignity – it simply had to be heard – but she still went on, trying to capture the glorious moments.
Laying in bed at night, Jordan would think of all the strangers she had seen on that day. Her memory was extraordinarily photographic. However, there was one stranger that would keep her up till the sun chased the moon away. Thinking of him almost overwhelmed her.
She met him on October the 13th, five years before. She had still not forgotten any details of him, especially his unreachable burst of laughter, one of the few that she was not able to hear.
They were both waiting for the 9 o’clock train, one behind the other, in queue. The station was bursting with late businessmen checking their watch and tapping anxiously their polished shoes on the marble floor. Fresh daylight broke through the windows with blinding atrocity, and the constant background chatter was muffled by the thick murky steam produced by the arriving trains. It was rush hour. Jordan loved it.
“Excuse me, but your shoelaces are untied.” The man spoke with a sensuous, elaborate British accent.
“Oh…Um. Thanks.” She replied with a shy smile, as she started to bend down.
“Don’t mention it.”
Her fingers soon found a way to snake around the shoelaces and perform a perfect bow. She stood back up, slightly flustered, and looked at him once more. He was slender and his hair shone with scented gel. His suit, however, wasn’t paired with a briefcase, but with a small leather notebook. ‘Strange!’, she told herself.
She moved on to the next thought. Her mind was already expressing its desire: she wanted to hear his laugh and collect it. The feeling of urgency mixed with curiosity took over her. Somehow she knew his laugh would be special.
“I bet it would sound so marvelous and sophisticated at the same time…” Jordan sighed, distracted.
“I’m sorry… what did you just say?”
“Oh, nothing.” Her face flushed crimson. “I was just thinking about…things.”
She didn’t like silence, so she rushed on.
“So, where are you from?”
“Can’t you hear from my accent?” A sly smile weaved its way onto his lips, revealing a dimple on his left cheek.
“Oh, I don’t know… Maybe Italy?” She said jokingly. She needed to get a laugh out of him.
“Oh, mamma mia?!” He joined in Jordan’s joke, moving slightly closer to her.
He did not laugh though, but that dimple remained on his left cheek.
“I’ve forgotten how British men actually do have a sense of humour!” Jordan exclaimed, with a smile painted across her cheeks.
Throwing his head back and screwing his eyes shut, he finally laughed. Yes! But at the same moment, a whistle was heard and the train sped into vision. The sound of wheels on the track hit her like a wall, destroying the sublime moment she had been waiting to experience. Jordan had missed it; she had only heard a sliver of that laugh. Defeat sunk through her skin.
“Goddamnit!” Her voice squeaked a little. Jordan flushed red once more. “Sorry… My mind is always reeling.” After having tried to justify herself, she tilted her head so that her fringe covered her eyes further.
“Well, you must think a lot.” His statement was accompanied by a beam.
The man invited her to step onto the train first – slightly bowing with charm – then sat next to her without hesitation.
“I just miss her so much” Jordan continued talking. “Only now I reckon that I should have spent more time with her. It just… hurts.” Without having realised, she had told him pretty much her whole life story in only 10 minutes. Something about the man’s sympathetic frown had made her remarkably comfortable with sharing such private information with him.
“That must be tough…” The man said, “But it was her choice, please don’t blame yourself for it.” His dimple had disappeared and morphed into a wistful expression.
“Well, if I were there when she went through it all… Oh, I was horrible.” Her hands were fidgeting in her lap. “There was this one day, I barely even looked at her! Even at the hospital, I just thought it wasn’t anything serious.” The man’s glance tried to find her eyes. “I guess I was just in denial, I’m a jealous person, even of my sister.” She continued.
Andrew loved collecting memories. Other people’s, especially. It felt like he could experience everything he had not. He practiced morphing his face into expressions that would naturally put people at ease on a daily basis.
Memories were addicting for him. Once he had heard one, he wouldn’t just stop there, he needed more. Andrew would find ways to weave into people’s minds, to hear their worst and best memories, and always managed to never say anything about himself. He had a special way with words and liked claiming he was born with it. He always kept a notebook with him: it was where he would jot down the best memories he had encountered on each and every day, but he would do that only when he was on his own again.
Today it was a lucky day.
“I guess I always felt like the worst sibling”. The young lady next to him explained. “The incapable one.”
He nodded, putting on a mask of empathy. He wanted her to go on.
“Oh well… Enough of this!” She interrupted herself, forcing out a smile. “I need to be optimistic!”
His mask of empathy shattered in disappointment. He wanted to hear about that memory in full. He felt he needed to know more about her.
It was like being a moth chasing the only light source in the dark for survival: that’s what his addiction felt like.
The train halted to a stop and people started to pack up and get off. It was too late. The young woman had stood up, brushed off non-existent dust from her skirt, and sighed in what seemed like the same disappointment he was experiencing. Andrew wondered why, for a short moment.
Almost unwillingly, they got off the train. They glanced at each other, both with eyes disclosing all the words that had remained unexpressed during their short encounter.
A nod was all he could produce. She, on the other hand, bowed down to him comically, trying to make him laugh, he guessed. Andrew was too lost in his feeling of failure to react. All he heard was her laugh, tinted with sadness, as she turned away.
She took the left route, he took right route. He needed her memory. She needed his laugh.
They would never meet again.