The train ride into the city is an hour long and sometimes delayed because the Metro North, more than 50 years after its inception, still hasn’t quite yet figured out how to handle train tracks with snow.
Ope has brought his DSLR along for the ride. The woman he is in love with loves getting her picture taken like no one else he knows. Love means sacrificing the luggage space he could have used to bring a book or two for parts of his DSLR camera.
The city is only an hour away by train from where he lives yet it sometimes feels like they are in a long distance relationship. The good kind. The kind you can’t wait to see each other again. The kind where all it takes is an uneventful train ride before you are in each other’s arms again.
Lola doesn’t like coming to Connecticut. She is too much of a New Yorker to find anything about the suburbs interesting. Ope doesn’t mind. Love never minds these things.
The train is full even though it is late evening on a Friday. Usually New Yorkers hightail it out of Connecticut early on Fridays. The seat Ope manages to find is on a two-seater, beside a bearded man who looks like he could be Ope’s friend someday.
The man doesn’t turn away from the window to acknowledge him as he settles into his seat but Ope doesn’t take it to heart. New Yorkers are weird and unfriendly until you get to know them.
Since he has no books to pass the time, he brings out his camera and looks through the photos from last weekend. They had gone to the Highline before brunch. He is only in a few of the photos himself and in each one, he has a sheepish smile, the kind only a man in love wears. All of the others are of Lola.
“Are you a photographer?”
He is startled from his musings by the husky voice coming from the seat next to him.
The previously unfriendly bearded man is now looking his way.
“Only on weekends,” Ope replies smiling.
“Wow! That is a pretty impressive camera for just weekend photography.”
“Yeah well, my fiancée loves photos.”
The bearded man smiles wistfully.
“My ex did too. I used to joke about how that was why she went out with me. For my skills.”
“Oh well! They have to want us for something right?”
They both chuckle and then are quiet for a few minutes.
“So you are a photographer then?”
“Yes. Heading back to that the city from a photo shoot actually. My equipment is overhead.”
“Cool, cool. My name is Ope by the way.”
“Simon. Nice to meet you. I am guessing you are Nigerian”
“Unfortunately yes. And I am guessing you are Ghanaian?”
“Accent gave us both away huh?”
“Well I knew you were West African from the moment we started speaking but once I heard your name, I knew where from.”
“Nigerians don’t name their kids Simon and the rest of West Africa is French-speaking so I figured Ghana.”
They grin at each other like brothers.
“Can I see some of the photos you have taken?” Simon asks.
“Sure,” Ope says handing over the camera.
But Simon only goes through a few photos before handing it back.
“She is beautiful. And you have potential.”
“High praise. Thank you.”
They say nothing for a long time but the silence is uncomfortable in the way it wasn’t just a few minutes ago and Ope can’t figure out why.
Soon enough Simon turns back to the window and that is how he stays until the stop at Harlem is announced.
“Well bro, it was nice meeting you. This is my stop.” He says as he makes to get out of his seat.
“Same here. Have as good one.” Ope says to the stranger turned friend, even if only for a few minutes.
He won’t think about Simon again until the weekend Lola leaves him.
“I don’t understand. I thought we were good. I thought everything was okay. My God Lola, last week we were making love in your room and dreaming of the future and less than seven days later, there is no future?”
“I know Ope, I know. Shit happens. But I don’t want to keep stringing you along when my heart is with someone else” She tells him as they sit on the stairs at Grand Central where she had insisted on meeting him instead of her apartment.
“What is his name?” He asks when there is nothing else to say.
“Temi. We met a few months ago. I swear I didn’t expect this. I thought it was you for sure.”
He takes the next train back home. The train isn’t full and he easily finds a seat next to Simon.
“Another photo shoot?” Ope asks after they shake hands.
“Yeah. A wedding. Tomorrow. So I figured I better sleep over in Westport where it is holding.”
They say nothing more until the South Norwalk, two stops before Westport is announced and Simon starts to get ready to alight.
“She left me too, you know,” He shares as he zips up his Patagonia jacket.
“Lola. She left me too.”
There is some surprise but not a lot. He remembers how quickly Simon had handed over the camera that day and he feels sick to his stomach.
“Why didn’t you tell me that first time?”
“Because I still love her. I am over her but I still love her. And when you love someone you never try to take away from their happiness. You were her happiness. To have told you would have diminished what you both had.”
Ope nods and when he sees Simon struggling with his gear, he gets up to help. They sit back down when the gear is ready.
“It isn’t you bro. It wasn’t me either. It is her. We are just casualties of the war that is Lola. Find a woman who has peace within herself and you will be okay. Look at me bro, I can shoot a wedding without falling to pieces again. I made it. You will make it.”
Ope doesn’t think so but there is a quiet confidence about Simon that makes him want to hope.
“Are there still girls like that? That are at peace?” Ope asks just as Westport is announced.
“Is there still fish in the sea?” Simon answers with a wink, as he grabs Ope by the hand for a man hug.
He will never see Simon again but for the rest of his life Ope won’t forget the bearded man either, another fallen soldier who got back up.