When the train arrived in Manggarai Station and the automatic doors slid open, the old lady was already standing in front of it, pressing her wristwatch to her right ear. She was in her mid 60s. She scratched the tip of her nose with her finger, and then folded her arms on her chest. She was wearing a light blue cardigan on top of her white shirt and a long grey skirt with a stain on its front. The stain looked new and the color was still so fresh that I could smell the stench of bottled sauce all the way from my seat.
She rubbed her wristwatch repeatedly, uncomfortably, as if the thing was slimy or had not been there at all before. Maybe the watch was new and she was not used to wearing it.
The old woman didn’t take my train even though the car I was in—right in front of her face—was mostly empty. Strange, I thought, because the platform where she was waiting—the platform I had been on—was a line for Bekasi. She couldn’t possibly mean to take another line because every train that passed in front of here would always head to Bekasi. Perhaps she was waiting for someone.
Usually, the train would stop for three to five minutes in this station. While waiting, I imagined her journey before coming to stand in front of me.
Five minutes ago the old woman was sitting in a fast-food restaurant near the ticket box. She ordered a sandwich and sat waiting for someone. The person she was waiting for would be in a train that would pass Manggarai Station and then would step out to meet her. The sauce in her sandwich dripped onto her favorite skirt.
In the middle of her meal, she occasionally scratched the tip of her nose with her finger. The person she was waiting for still hadn’t shown up. She stood from her chair and decided to wait for them in the platform. It would be easier for them to find each other that way.
Ten minutes before ordering the sandwich in the fast-food restaurant, she had visited a watch-seller kiosk in an antique market at Jalan Surabaya, Cikini. The watch-seller was about her age and he looked as exhausted as she did. Both of them were born in 1948—yes, the year was more or less appropriate—and they once went to school together. They met each other again in that market by chance and had a small awkward conversation.
“You were only interested in the ticking of a clock,” she said. “You didn’t change at all.”
“Of course. What did you expect?” The watch-seller laughed as his eyes swept through his display. “I think this watch fits you.”
“Listen carefully.” He showed the watch on his left hand and the old woman bent over to listen. “Hear that? The tick sounds like that house lizard that fell on your head once, right?”
She tried to hold back her laugh, because when she was laughing, the wrinkles on her cheeks showed clearly. Even after she finished they wouldn’t disappear—thin lines like dried wood would mark her face and would only disappear after an hour if she didn’t laugh again. She had to find another topic of conversation that wouldn’t force her to laugh. “I never expected for us to meet again.”
The watch-seller lifted his right hand to show the time on his own watch to the old lady. “I never expected you to marry in ’73.”
“Like I never expected you to not show up in Megaria* that afternoon.” She matched the time on her new watch to his.
“I did show up.”
“I know you did, but you ignored my presence there for one whole hour,” she said. “How much for this?”
“So I did.” The watch-seller released a long breath through his mouth, as if saying fine. It’s okay. “It’s free.”
I was suspicious about the watch. Maybe the watch-seller had deliberately kept the watch for the her all along. But when I realized I was just questioning my own imagination, I started to feel uncomfortable thinking about her.
The announcement that came through the speaker said that the doors would be closed in a few. When she heard it, she looked at her watch again. I followed her example. 15.29.
A little boy ran past, screaming happily from the back car through mine. His parents were outside, running and laughing, telling him to get off the train. When the boy got to the door where the old woman was standing, it closed. The mother who was laughing suddenly widened her eyes and was staring in fear when the train began to move forward. The boy hit the door repeatedly and yelled for his mother while the train continued to move past the platform. A passenger tried to calm him down. Several minutes later a security officer came and was informed about the whole matter. He lifted the boy in his arms and carried him to the front car.
The door in front of me had already shut. I lost the old woman when I was distracted by the boy. I looked at the door for quite a long time, and when I felt it was in vain, I turned my eyes to the tips of my own shoes.
The train arrived in Jatinegara. The door slid open and this time a short-haired girl was standing on the threshold. She also folded her arms on her chest, like the old woman. I glanced at my wristwatch and asked myself: How many people in this world, at this moment, are waiting?
Before I had an answer the door slid closed again. Getting on a commuter line on the weekend at this hour felt like getting on a horizontally moving lift in a deserted shopping mall. When the door was opened, only one or two people got in—in some stations, nobody came in at all. And the door in front of me was like some opposite of a stage curtain; when it opens again the scenery has changed, but we don’t have to guess what kind of role the characters are playing. Me myself, actually, what in the world was I waiting for? While thinking about it, I patted my pockets and realized that my motorcycle key was missing. [ ]
*Megaria Cinema was built in 1932 and still operates until today. The cinema was once called Metropole before Soekarno changed the name.