A Passenger In The Twilight (Flash Fiction #72)

Wong looks out the window of his office and curses the passing train. He’s been working all day in his accounting office, almost non-stop, just to meet a tax deadline for several of his procrastinating clients. He’s a man of mild temper but he hates trains.

The trains pass right underneath the window of his office–located on the second floor of an office plaza–sending the whole structure into a vibration and overwhelming his ears with noise. Actually there’s a good distance of 30 feet (about 10 meters) between the building and the rail tracks, but the shaking and the clamor make one feel like one’s almost next to the train.

When he tried to purchase an office for his accounting practice, he didn’t have the money for a better office in a better location. The daily train passage–five trains a day on average–considerably reduced the value of this office. He was so happy at the time to find something within his price range that he bought it right away, not knowing that he would hate it afterwards. That was ten years ago. Now he has more money for a better place, but he’s too busy and too tired to move. He resigned himself to this inevitability with a habit of cursing the train loudly whenever it passes by. “This must be the one going from Philadelphia to New York. It is so loud…” He says while hitting the table until his palm turns red.

In this sour mood he leaves the office. The dusk has descended.

A man standing not far away from his car approaches him. Wong stares a few seconds through the twilight and realizes that he’s the brother of Jee who owns a computer repair shop in the same plaza. His name is Jak. Wong wonders about the relationship between Jee and Jak, which seems quite weird. It doesn’t seem like the two brothers own the repair shop together. If you say Jak is working for Jee, that’s also quite unlikely. Jee has shown up for the last two weeks in bruises and bandages, claiming that he fell when he’s doing home remodeling. That’s certainly a lie, but Wong is too polite to point it out.

“Can you give me a ride home?” Jak asks. If it gets any darker, Wong wouldn’t have recognized him.

“Of course. Jump in. Where do you live?”

“I will direct you.”

“How did you come here? Where is your brother Jee? What’s going on with Jee recently. Is he really doing home improvement and injuring himself in the process?” Wong doesn’t want to be nosy but his curiosities get the better of him.

“Well, I don’t want to talk about my brother.” Jak says. That puts a stop to their conversation for a mile or so.

When they pass underneath a railway bridge, Jak suddenly says, “I detest trains.”

“So do I.” Wong agrees immediately.

“How can anybody invent such a noisy beast? It is a devil. One day it is going to destroy us. All of us.” Jak says enthusiastically.

Wong feels a little unease. He doesn’t like trains himself, but calling it a devil who want to come to get us is a bit too much.

“It causes toxic air vibrations, which in turns make people sick with headache, vomiting, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety.” Says Jak.

“Anxiety, for sure.” Echoes Wong.

“I’ve never met anybody so agreeable as you are. At first I thought you are as disagreeable as they are and I almost wanted to do something to fight the repulsive spirit and to defend myself, but you turn out different from them all.” Jak says,”they always tell me I am sick and they try to kill me with pills. With pills? You know. I won’t let them do that to me. I am clever. You know? I am a brilliant engineer.”

“I believe you.” Wong says but he starts to feel that his passenger is a little unhinged.

Jak’s place is not far away and soon Wong pulls into his driveway. Wong’s increasingly alarmed at his passenger’s talk of big brother, secret police, drone spying, torture chamber–Jak fancies that he is persecuted or going to be persecuted by a lot of things.

Wong let out a sigh of relief when the motion sensing garage light comes up. Somebody runs out of the house and Wong knows her–Jee’s wife. Jee, still in bandages, follows her.

“Oh, Wong. Thank you so much for bringing Jak back. We have been looking for him all over the place. He disappeared this morning. Just walked out. I am glad he’s back.” Jee’s wife says.

Wong is eager to leave, but Jee’s wife refuses to let him go. They all go inside.

“I hope you didn’t disagree with him. He might have beaten you up if you did.”

“He tells me he hates trains, and I agree with him of course.” Wong chuckles.

“Oh, Jee said he likes trains and Jak got into a fight with him. Jak can’t be crossed.” Jee’s wife says.

“I see. That’s how Jee got his injury.” Wong says.

“But you won’t tell anybody, right? Please don’t tell anybody. It is such an embarrassment, but we are a loving family and Jee loves his brother dearly. You know Jee and Jak are engineers back when we were all in Penang, an island off the coast of Malaysia. Jak is brilliant and Jee is average. When we immigrated to New Jersey, however, Jak can’t get a good job. He wants the best but he can only get a so-so job. He doesn’t want to compromise and ends up going mad. You know one has to adapt. As an immigrant, we have to. There are Russian scientists who work as janitors in New York; well-known actresses who become travel agents; famous writers who flip burgers. Jee adapts well, content with a small shop, but Jak despises the work. Of course Jak got worse after his wife left him. He’s been living with us ever since.” Jee’s wife says.

And an old woman comes to thank Wong. She’s Jee and Jak’s mother. She tells Wong that Jak is persuaded to take his medicine and he is OK as long as he is on medication.

After the dinner and a little chat, Wong finally takes his leave. When he is driving home, he thinks that he wants to be good at adapting and he doesn’t hate train anymore. “Actually the vibration and the noise add welcoming diversion to my life.” He says loudly.

26 thoughts on “A Passenger In The Twilight (Flash Fiction #72)

  1. Reminds me of my landlady from Taiwan. She went to school there and got a nursing degree. When she and her husband moved to the US she found out her degree was no good, so she had to go back to school to get re-certified. It’s a sad state of affairs for many educated immigrants.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a swift change of mind. I think certain stories and incidents make us change our basic thinking. Being grateful for what we have is so important. Many people are so much worse off than us. Counting tiny blessings and being thankful for a healthy body and mind are the right way to live in a self-obsessed world.
    A wise and wonderful story, Haoyan. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, our life is filled with challenges and we have to be adaptable to our environment. I’ve seen people who go almost crazy because they can’t handle the change and the pressure of the change. They either go completely one way or completely extreme another way, losing their own balance along the way. It is dangerous if one cannot realign one’s goal and change oneself according to life’s vicissitudes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you encounter someone like Jak whose paranoia is at an extreme level and they tell you “wow, you are the most agreeable person!”, it will surely make you pause and rethink your own perspective. Bonding over a shared hatred of something probably isn’t very healthy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s sooooooo true. I fell into the trap of bonding through complaints and shared dissatisfaction, but the result was bad. It make people more cynical and distrustful of each other. That’s so true.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes me too, been there done that🙃If I catch myself being negative just to fit in with a group of coworkers of friends, I try to stop and rethink…in that case I’d rather be the odd one out.

        Liked by 1 person

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