TRAIN TRACKS – WAITING (1 A.M)
Two men, BOB and TOM are waiting for the 10:00 PM train. There has been a snow delay and they have been lingering expectantly for three hours with a slowly diminishing sense of hope. The station is empty, barren, devoid of life. More importantly, there is silence—a hollow, echoing stillness made by things that were lacking. If there—
TOM: Jesus, it’s cold.
BOB looks at TOM but doesn’t say anything.
TOM’s attempt to break the silence that has slowly been solidifying between them has failed for the sixth time, but undeterred, he tries again.
TOM: How long do you think it’s been?
BOB: A while.
TOM laughs. It is a strange laugh, almost resembling a half choked sob of relief. But to be honest, TOM is quite a strange man, so it could be said that it is a rather normal laugh.
TOM: Not much of a talker, are ya?
BOB glances sideways at TOM for a long while, then shrugs to indicate his disinterest and looks elsewhere. TOM desperately tries to regain his attention.
TOM: Aren’t you bored?
BOB looks at TOM, a small spark of curiosity glimmering within the depths of his dark, dark eyes.
BOB: No, I am not. Are you?
TOM hesitates. He feels like he has to give a satisfactory answer. He thinks, of course, he is bored, but is he really bored? He is not very sure.
TOM: Y-yes, I guess. I mean, I believe I am.
BOB turns around and fully faces TOM.
BOB: And why do you believe that?
TOM: Well, there’s nothing to do, and we’ve been doing nothing for…uhh, quite a while. So I should be feeling bored.
BOB: What makes you associate inaction with what you believe you are feeling?
TOM: Uh, well, we’re waiting at a train station aren’t we? Everyone says that that’s boring. You search up boredom on the web and almost inevitably there will be at least one article or essay that relates boredom to waiting at a train station, or waiting for anything, really. Waiting for your favorite T.V. show to start, waiting for your food to finish heating up. Even waiting for your shower water to get hot. That kind of thing can be boring too, I guess. Perhaps any moment of our lives that we spend not doing anything productive can be called boring.
TOM looks down and flushes a deep red color, embarrassed by his outpouring of words. He wonders if he has talked too much. He wonders if he has said too little. He sneaks an upward glance in BOB’s direction, only to find that BOB is no longer looking at him. Rather, his attention is directed towards a blinking red light far off in the tunnel.
BOB: I suppose you are right in associating the feeling of waiting with boredom. So many people have told you that it is so and you have believed them for so long that it is an undeniable truth to you now. I expect I would be shaking the very foundations of your reality if I told you that the act of waiting for a train at a train station does not necessarily induce boredom.
TOM: …Not really, no.
BOB whips his head back towards TOM, surprise and embarrassment plain on his face. It contrasts so sharply with his previous stiff and self-assured persona that TOM has to fight back a giggle.
TOM: Don’t misunderstand. I am a bit taken aback by what you said, but it’s not exactly mind blowing.
BOB: Ah, I see.
BOB turns away again. One second passes, then another. TOM looks down at his hands and tries not to fidget. Has he offended BOB? He has counted sixteen blinks since BOB had last spoken, and the silence that had been dissipated by the sound of their conversation was beginning to darken once more. Seventeen. The silence begins to crystallize. He can already feel it sharpening and spreading across the clear surface of the quiet that has pooled between them. TOM closes his eyes. Eighteen. But before TOM can open his eyes again, BOB turns and his coat rustles with the movement, scattering the silence into flight. TOM nearly weeps.
BOB: Are you not curious as to why I would say such a thing? You may question me.
TOM: Um, okay. Why would you say such a thing?
BOB: It would be offensive to compare the act of waiting to the feeling of boredom. Waiting is just that. Waiting. It is pleasant. It is enjoyable. There is a sense of anticipation and perhaps excitement. Boredom is more complex.
TOM pauses and thinks for a while. A short while.
TOM: Do you find this kind of waiting—what we’re doing —pleasant?
BOB: No, but I suppose I will be quite relieved when our train finally arrives.
TOM: Then you’re bored.
TOM: This waiting isn’t fun so you can’t be just waiting. Going by your definition, waiting is not an unpleasant thing. You must be bored…while waiting. I don’t find this fun either so I guess I’m bored too. I was right, then. I’m bored.
BOB: Hmm. Very well, I must revise my previous statement. Waiting differs from boredom in that there is purpose behind an action. Why am I waiting for my undergarments to finish rolling around in the dryer? Because I want them to be clean.
TOM: So boredom stems from a lack of purpose?
BOB: Yes, if you were to be waiting at this train station for no reason at all, then you would be bored.
TOM: But I’m certain that I get bored when riding a bus to work or when I go to business meetings. Isn’t there purpose in those actions?
TOM waits expectantly. His back slowly wilts as time passes, like the stem of a flower that has unknowingly been burdened with the weight of a gently falling snow. Each increment of weight, each second, brought it closer to that moment when the snow would overwhelm flower and it would snap, quick and clean.
To TOM’s credit, he was not exactly a man who feared much. Death, of course, was a thing he would rather avoid. Pain and aches, too. And he was not very fond of that nasty little pair of children in his neighborhood. But fears can change. Ten years ago, he would have laughed if someone had confessed to him that they were afraid of frogs. Three hours ago, he would have questioned the sanity of a man who feared the silence that resulted from the absence of things moving about and making noise.
BOB: Perhaps there is a difference in purposes. Perhaps there was no real purpose behind your riding the bus and your attendance of business meetings. Wallace’s belief that one can become unborable can be translated into something like, ‘if there is a true purpose behind every action in your life, you will never be bored’.
As BOB speaks, his expression become more and more crumpled, as if each word dissatisfies him in some way.
BOB: I believe that the answer to your question is that there is merely a confusion in the terms you use. Perhaps that was not true boredom. You have been conditioned to immediately condemn any feeling of restlessness as boredom. Waiting produces a bearable sort of restlessness, because you know that what you are waiting for will come soon, in time. Boredom is a restlessness resulting from uncertainty. Purposelessness. What am I waiting for? Is what I am waiting for worth this time that I am ‘wasting’? When will what I am waiting for even take place?
TOM: But you have to agree that boredom and waiting do generate the same feelings. Restlessness and anxiety. Maybe they are just synonyms.
BOB: Similarity does not imply identity. Just because A and B cause C does not mean that A is equal to B.
TOM: Why not? That seems amazingly logical to me. If I drink soda or coffee, the same things happens. I get energized. Because they both have caffeine. I wouldn’t say that soda and coffee are the same thing but they share a degree of similarity that isn’t present in other drinks. They could be used to replace each other for the same effect.
BOB: So you are saying that the ability to be replaced is a condition to being able assume identity?
TOM: Well, if I cloned my sister and replaced her with the clone, no one would be able to tell the difference. It wouldn’t really be my sister, but in bodily makeup she is. One body, one identity. That’s what philosophers are saying these days, anyway.
BOB: Interesting. However, neither coffee and soda nor waiting and boredom are made of the same components. Coffee and soda may have sugar and caffeine but coffee also has milk and soda has a large number of highly dubious ingredients inside. Similarly, as I mentioned before, boredom lacks the purpose that is present when waiting. I feel that you are missing my point.
TOM opens his mouth to speak, purely out of reflex. He knows that he must speak before the moment is lost. But what can he say? Something. Anything.
It is 2:00 A.M, and two men are waiting for the 10:00 P.M. train. There has been a snow delay and they have been lingering, waiting and praying with desperate hope that the train will soon arrive. The station is empty and dark. There are no signs of life save for the intermittent puffs of air that emanate from within the dark depths of a rumpled scarf. The air is cold.
More importantly, there is a silence, and it is a silence of three parts. The first silence was a hollow, echoing stillness made by things that were lacking. If there had been a train passing through, the wheels would have screeched and clacked and stamped the silence away. The doors would have rattled and steamed and opened to enclose the silence in another space. If there had been commuters, they would have grumbled and sighed the silence down the dark tunnel from which it came from. If there had been conversation…but no, of course there was no conversation.
The second was in the endlessly fidgeting hands of a man who stood perfectly still as he waited nervously for the first silence to go away.
The third silence was harder to notice, but if you listened hard enough, you could begin to feel it in the sullen blinking of the red light hanging in front of the dark tunnel. It was in the empty spaces that lay between the worn-down tracks of the train station. It was in the tired sigh of the wind as it slowly wound its way past the solitary forms of two men. It was in the dark, dark eyes of a man who knew that he was perfectly, completely bored.