Empathy Unbound

Here is a Flash Fiction story I wrote this evening. The idea slowly presented itself to me over the past few days. I’m sure the news media had something to do with it. I mean, the horrific events that recently happened in Paris has touched a nerve on a global scale. I suppose this is my reaction, or actually, my hope. Sometimes, all we need is someone to be there for us, even if it’s a stranger.

I hope anyone who reads this will enjoy it. Thank you!  #JeSuisCharlie

Empathy Unbound

by

J. Milton Gershom

  It was a cool Spring morning, and a thin film of dew still glistened on the small patch of grass by the front steps. William walked quickly from his apartment to the bus stop after hitting the snooze button one too many times. His leather messenger bag bounced against his hip as he tried to make up for lost time.

  Two blocks later, he saw the city bus waiting. A few other people were still boarding when William decided he didn’t need to rush anymore. As he approached, he suddenly stopped, mesmerized.

  A couple was walking towards him on the sidewalk, holding hands. The smiles on their faces seemed to fend off any threats of sadness or disappointments. They were blissfully ignorant of the real world. Laughter was their language, and touch was their fruit.

    “Hey, buddy!” the bus driver yelled. “Are you getting on or not?”

  William was suddenly brought back to reality. He looked again in the direction of the couple, but they were gone. Climbing onto the bus, he fought the feeling that he imagined it all.

  While gazing down the aisle for a seat, he noticed everyone was sitting alone. There were a number of choices open to him, but some of the passengers didn’t look like they wanted any company. Apparently, no one had their morning cup of coffee yet. Then, William saw her.

  She had the window seat near the back of the bus, but she wasn’t looking out. Her head was tilted down. Moving closer, he noticed tears where caressing her cheek.

  William thought that maybe he should respect her privacy, but there was the gnawing feeling that she shouldn’t be alone. How could he know this? It was just like when he had seen the couple only a few minutes ago…or had he?

    “Excuse me, Miss,” he said. “Are you okay?”

  She looked up at him, her moist eyes sparkling. “Bad morning, but I’ll be okay.” This time she moved her head to look out the window. Then she quickly turned towards William. He offered his handkerchief. After she accepted it, he sat down beside her.

  The bus started moving. The faint smell of diesel exhaust lingered momentarily. Slowly, they began their morning commute.

  William and this unknown woman, sat quietly together. Occasionally, she would dab her eyes dry. It seemed that maybe she was beginning to realize that everything might be okay. She offered to give him his handkerchief back, but he motioned for her to keep it. She smiled at him and said, “Thank you.”

  He smiled back. “You’re welcome,” he replied.

  During the next three stops, they didn’t talk at all. Suddenly, she began crying again. The once white cloth in her hands was now light gray from her mascara.

  William was aching inside. The polarity of emotions he’d witnessed the last fifteen minutes were unbearable. It seemed he had no foundation to base his actions on, but he knew he had to do something. He had to trust his feelings.

  He looked over at her.

  There was a momentary lull when she was looking out the window again, her hands clutching the damp handkerchief resting on her lap. The morning sun made her blonde hair glow. Long and wavy, it nestled her face like a mother holding her baby.

  Without a second thought, he reached over and held her hand.

  She remained looking out the window of the bus, but she didn’t pull back her hand. He mused that there was a slight smile on her face, as if she imagined the world wasn’t full of assholes after all.

  The bus continued its route as people got on and off from their daily stops. Still, the two of them held hands in silence, but not looking at each other. It was like time stood still.

  The next twenty minutes went too fast for William. He wanted this to last forever. There was a sense of peace that flowed through him. Maybe he was helping her. He didn’t dare look at her; the spell might be broken.

  Not much later, he realized that his stop was approaching. He fought the urge of doing what he was used to, acting like a robot by getting off the bus and going to work. Then, just like that, he told himself, “Screw work!”

  He wanted to talk to her, to ask what her name was. His mouth was dry as cotton balls, so he just sat there, holding her hand. Then he had a terrible thought, “Maybe she feels sorry for me. Maybe she doesn’t want to let go for fear of hurting me.”

  The bus stopped. This time she moved as if to get up.

  William stood, and moved into the aisle.

  The woman scooted across the seats to leave. She was still holding his hand. When they where facing each other, a smile appeared on her face. What happened next took him by surprise. She brought his hands up to her lips and softly kissed them.

    “Thank you,” she gently said, and handed him his handkerchief back. “Thank you,” she repeated. Then she walked to the front of the bus and exited.

  William didn’t know what to think. What had he just experienced? He sat back down as other commuters got on. Still holding his mascara covered handkerchief, he looked out the window. Then he noticed where he was, the bus stop in front of the city hospital.

  As the bus started moving again, he wondered why she was there. Whatever the reason, he hoped that she had the strength to face the situation that awaited her. He knew she would be okay because deep inside, he knew he would be okay.

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