I wrapped up taking the last batch of photos by sunset. Flipping through them, I made sure that had a scale displayed clearly next to the cracks in the metal. These were the subject of an assignment -- and hence, of my photos. The fading light made it impossible to snap any more decent ones. After a whole afternoon of suburb-hopping to find rusting metal, I figured it was time to head back.
The carriage was almost empty. Every passenger on board was sitting by themselves. All of them were zoned out -- to a book, music, laptop, on a call and so on. I sat down on an empty four-seater section, because they're always the ones with a big window next to them, the view unhindered by another seat. I like staring out of windows when I'm on public transport. My head's always on a swivel. I look at people driving their cars alongside the train/bus, or catch glimpses of people coming down elevators at a station as the train pulls in. People watching is a great pastime - until someone catches you looking, and you avert your gaze lest they might think you creepy. But you know. You know that they know you were looking.
She was probably gazing out the glass as well before the lack of lighting outside turned it into a pseudo-mirror. She was pretty, with a fair skin and South-East Asian features. Jet black hair flowing to a couple of inches under her shoulders, and bangs framing her face. I could tell she was no more than five feet five. She had on a down jacket, with denim shorts and sneakers underneath. She must've gone out during the day in a tank and shorts, but the evenings before the approaching spring were still too chilly to not carry an extra layer of warm clothes. Through the narrow spaces between the seats, I caught a sliver of a glimpse of toned legs.
My phone was in my hand. I raised it up just over the level of the seat backs, and turned the camera on. Pretending to take photos of the seats, I discreetly looked around on the glass-reflected interiors to see if anyone was behind me or with a line of sight to the screen. Satisfied that no-one would catch me in the act, I started taking photos.
The image frames my muse from afar, half obscured by the seats in front of her.
The bright screen dimly lights up the lower half of her face. Between the seat backs, a flash of her shapely legs.
I wrench my eyes away as I turn towards my bus stop. On the ride back home, I keep flicking through the six photos I took of the woman on the train.
I was walking through the central building on the campus which housed student affairs, club headquarters, restaurants, cafes, lounges and a bookstore. I passed a group of college-girls by, absently glancing in their direction. One of the faces seemed familiar. Our eyes met for a second. Her face carried a grin from her ongoing conversation with her friends, and it morphed into a smile before we broke eye contact. I kept going, but slowed down. That was someone whom I recognized and who's been with me for a while. Yet I didn't know her. Strangely intimate, but distant.
Telling myself I was reading too much into it, I shrugged it off.
The last day of our experimental work had me get to the lab at 8 AM and stay till 6:30 in the evening. It was gruelling work and I was on my feet the whole day. There was almost no-one in the facility by the time I signed out. I walked the return mile, then boarded a train to central station. The place was thronged by travellers and passengers, but the platform I was heading to was less crowded. At this time of the day, people usually head into the city -- to go out for a drink, catch a movie, maybe a live gig -- but not away from it. The weekday afternoon rush was over, and all the nine-to-fivers were back home by now.
"Looking for me again?" a silky voice floated in from the side.
"... I'm sorry?" I blurted out.
"I don't think I'm the person you're looking for."
"Listen, I've had a long and tiring day. I don't have the energy to deal with practical jokes played by random strangers right now."
"For the last time, I don't know what you're talking about." I saw hesitation in her eyes and started to get up. As I made to move to another row, she came up from behind my seat and blocked my way.
I could tell she was agitated, but was trying to keep cool. I admired her spunk. Also, I wanted to see how this would go. I sat back down and waited for her to continue. She settled next to me and glared.
I took my phone out of my pocket.
I scrolled down. There must've been at least a thousand photos on storage between now and the first week of October. It was taking longer than she seemed to have the patience for.
And now, dear reader, you must choose the fate of these two strangers. The path forks off here, one heading off with the premise that the incriminating photos do exist on the phone, and the other with the premise that they don't. The subsequent events of both scenarios are laid out, one after the other, in this story. If you decide to take the former path, read on. If it's the latter you have fancied for me and my companion, scroll down to the dotted line. Whichever way you decide to go, I hope you find the endings happy.
If you flicked through them really fast, it would almost seem like a time-lapse animation of the girl's face as she looked at her phone, then outside the window for a moment and then back to her phone. There was nothing sexual about the photos, but this lone voyeuristic act could land me in big trouble if she chose to. The girl went through them, closed her eyes for a second, then turned and stared daggers at me.
My pulse quickened.
"Most women have a sixth sense about knowing when they're being watched. It's almost like a radar -- pinging when someone pays unwanted attention. I'm not most women, but I do have a radar, finely tuned to hone in on creeps like you."
"I caught you just as you were putting your phone down. You held it at an odd angle. Almost as if you were pointing it at me. And after we got down at the station, I saw the way you were eyeing my legs from behind. Those safety mirrors around corners have more than one purpose."
"And I saw you around on campus a couple of times. I realised that I wasn't the only one you had fuck-eyes for. Like the girl from the international students' club. I could almost see your piece-of-shit mind at work, putting together scenarios where you get inside her pants."
"I don't blame you, though. She's hot. And so were the others I saw you try to discreetly check out. The one who appear poised and proper on the outside, but are sexed up minxes on the inside."
"And like I said before, I'm flattered. I don't count myself among any of those women. I'm quiet and awkward. Uncertain, weird and uncomfortable at the best of times. I don't have sexual heat coursing through my veins. In fact, I'm the opposite of sexy. I don't know what you see in me. But somehow I get the impression that I'm the only one you ever took photos of."
"There's nothing that sticks out about these photos on your phone. No implications. Nothing shameful or incriminating. Yet you have them on your phone when you could've deleted them ages ago. It's like they're worthless to you. It's like you're a hoarder and this is something you've filed away and forgotten about. That's demeaning to me. Actually, that's fucking insulting."
"Which is why I want you to jerk off to them."
"Right now. On this train. In front of me."
"You want me to masturbate to your photos?"
"Here, with all these people around us, and cameras looking down from both ends?"
"As compared to an indecent exposure charge? Fuck."
Jesus. This was bad. I was starting to panic. Blood rushed into my face.
"I want you to take this seriously. Stop trying to act smart." She admonished me.
"There you go." She said.
"Aww look at junior down there. So cute."
"Oh no. You don't get your phone back. Not until you cum. I'm gonna keep the phone in my lap, like so."
"Also, I don't want you to get smart and snatch the phone away from me. So I'm gonna need you to stroke yourself with one hand, and the other goes between your back and the seat, grabbing the first one around the bicep. I need to see the hand wrapped tightly around the bicep throughout."
She glared at me. I did as I was told. Now I was wedged between her and the window (thank god for that), with the arm closest to the window twisted uncomfortably behind my back. I had to bend my head down and to the side so I could see the screen with one of the photos on it. I started rubbing the shaft, trying desperately to block out the surroundings. It wasn't working, as my cock wasn't showing any signs of stirring.
I hopped on a bus, which in thirty minutes deposited me to the nearest train station on my line. From there I had a fifty-minute ride back to the station closest to my house. Woes of living in a big city and having no transportation of my own. I walked down to the end of the platform to avoid the crowds getting on and off the first couple of carriages. Not that there was much of a crowd anyway. Force of habit, then. The train pulled in at its allotted time and I boarded.
I put my earphones on and settled in for the ride. The train pulled out, heading into the direction of the night. White lights lit up the interior. We sped through the inner suburbs. The stations in the outer suburbs were spread much further apart from each other than the ones closer to the heart of the city. Between one of these stations, the world outside went dim, and the windows reflected the interiors. My gaze was caught by a woman sitting near a window, across the aisle and a couple of rows down from me.
I wanted her. In that moment. On that train. I wanted to touch her skin. Feel her hair between my fingers. Brush her lips against mine. Trace her features with my fingertips, from her eyelids to the line of her jaw. Breathe in her scent. I wanted to have her. Leave marks on her. Taint her. Capture her. Keep her. Like she was nothing more than a pretty face and a sensual body.
She's looking at her phone. Bangs of hair cover her forehead.
The train slows as it approaches my stop. I get up and move towards the door. I look back and she's standing up as well. The train comes to a standstill and the doors open. I get out and muck around on my phone till she passes me by. I follow her down the stairs and into the parking lot, mentally documenting every contour of her legs and the undulation of skin. Her thighs ripple as they support her weight down the sloped entrance to the parking lot. The sinews on the back of her legs rock as each foot lands. The bands of tissue running down the side of her thighs flex. She's a tigress, a creature which evolution has pared down over millennia, until every muscle in its body is optimised and primed for preying. She is one of those people who are understated, yet undeniable, sexual creatures.
A couple of weeks passed by. The assignment I was working on, along with others, got graded and handed back. The nights got shorter and days got longer, and less cold. Heavy jackets and jeans got traded in for tee-shirts and shorts. Due dates for tests and reports piled up closer to the exams. I spent more time on the Uni campus than elsewhere. In one of the final days of the teaching period, I spotted the woman from the train again.
Then I made the connection with the face on the train, from that night a month ago. I looked back and she was gone, along with her group. I started walking again, but with a bit less of an urgency than earlier. Something nagged at me.
It was the smile of a friend, or a person who's at least an acquaintance. The kind of smile you give someone when you spot them from a distance, but can't talk because you've got something else going on. The kind of smile that's beamed across a packed lecture theatre or exam hall. The kind that is underscored by mutual cognizance. Yet, beyond the photos on my phone -- which I'd forgotten about -- I didn't know the woman. I'd never come across her before, or since. Her identity, her background were total unknowns to me. Nor could I possibly fathom her knowing me. We'd never shared a class. I never saw her at the gym or the track. For all I knew before our chance encounter a minute ago, she didn't even go the same uni I did.
Exams came and went. The university settled in for the long summer break. I'd secured work on a project, which had me and my colleagues travel to a small country town. After a couple of weeks, it evolved into lab studies, which meant we no longer had to go to our offices in the countryside, but instead run experiments at a facility within the big city. So I was back to commuting via public transport. With the facility two hours away, I had to take two buses, a train and walk a mile towards the end. The travel back home had me take a train into the city, and then another to the outer suburbs. The commute was tiring but the work was exciting. Also, the receptionist at the facility was a beautiful, cheery blonde who made the hectic morning commute melt away behind me.
I boarded the train and found a seat next to the windows, as usual. The train pulled out into the dusk, a silent worker starting its night-shift. We passed a couple of the inner-city stations before hitting the tunnel. The view outside turned black and the interiors reflected off the windows. I casually glanced down the seat rows. Empty for the most part.
I turned my head and there she was. The girl from the train, so many nights ago. She was bent over the back of my seat and had her mouth really close to my ear, before pulling back as I turned. She had the corners of her lips turned up in a mocking smile.
"I'm flattered, you know, that even after all this time you still keep an eye out for me. I used to think I was very forgettable."
"Oh I think I've got a positive match on the creep who has photos of me on his phone."
"It's a joke alright when you snap photos of unsuspecting people without asking them first."
" Sit. Down. Or I scream bloody sexual harassment."
"Take your phone out."
"Open the gallery and scroll to 7 th October."
"Oh for fuck's sake!" she snatched the phone out of my hands and dragged the slider down to October. The photos from the 7th showed up a moment later. There were the photos I took for the assignment, and a couple more from messenger which had gotten automatically downloaded to the memory. She scrolled up a bit more, and sure enough...
There were the photos.
"There you fucking go."
"How did you know?" I asked her.
I glared and turned my face away.
She had me.
Hook, line and sinker.
I looked up.
She was right. She was different. She had something about her... like she was jaded, but fresh. Touched, but untainted. Unhinged, yet calm. And cold, like a dormant volcano.
She was calm, but I could detect an undertone of misery in her voice.
The sentence rolled off her mouth evenly. As if it carried no more or no less weight than everything she'd previously said to me.
I have my faults. A short attention span is one of them. Coupled with that is a vivid imagination. There are a hundred thoughts whizzing through my brain at any given moment. I get carried away. I see, hear and feel things which haven't really materialised. So, I had to make sure my mind hadn't made up the string of words which had just exploded in my brain. I was surprisingly coherent in my response.
"If you wanna put it in clinical terms, yes."
"You don't have to. But I guess you'd love the sexual harassment charge that comes five seconds later."
"The way I see it, you're between a rock and a hard place." She said, winking at me.
"Okay hold on." I tried moving my bag up to my lap but she smacked my hand away.
There was no way I was getting off this train without a pair of handcuffs around my wrists. Heart thumping loudly, I slowly undid the zipper on my jeans.
I scanned the rows in front of us. There were a couple of passengers scattered about. Most seemed absorbed in their devices. No one was looking in our direction. Praying to get this over with quickly, I slipped my hand inside my underwear and pulled my flaccid cock out.
Face burning, I slipped the fingers of one hand around the base, and held the other out for my phone.
She placed the phone on top of her thigh, screen facing up.
"Fuck is this, a jiu-jitsu class?" I hissed.