The Ticket Booth
Everything about the woman displays misery: aching, suffocating misery that consumes a person. Her back is hunched, causing her body to curl into it self as though if she were to straighten it would release all despair. Her eyes droop from nights lost to restlessness, and her lips are dry from excessive chewing. She sits with her face in her hand listening to my unending questions about the underground parking lot’s security, answering automatically without much thought. She is withdrawn into herself and nearly as bored as the rest of us students on this tedious class assignment. She taps her fingernails patiently until finally the list on my page runs out and I have nothing left to ask. We thank her for her answers and make some small talk. The short pompous boy in my group, who I have never liked, shifts anxiously back and forth between feet as though if he were to stay any longer around this miserable woman he might very well die. I shoot him a look warning him of his socially unacceptable movements and turn back to the lady. She looks at me, opens her mouth, then slowly closes it as though what she was about to say was sucked back into her.
“Do you have any questions?” I ask, completely unaware of what I’m about to open up. I don’t know why I asked that; she’s the one with all of the answers about the security around here. Her eyes narrow and she takes a deep breath preparing to open up what her hunched body is holding in.
“What do you think about the war in Iraq?” Her question is asked cautiously and one would think casually if you weren’t looking in her eyes. The shifting of the blonde haired boy stops and I brace myself knowing he’s about to speak.
“All I know is that they do a whole lot of sitting around and not really any actual fixing over there.” His arrogance makes his words sound like a whip. Her body turns into itself again and softly begins to shake with sobs. She is broken.
“Yes they do,” She folds her arms to hold herself in, “it wasn’t for nothing.” No one speaks. In fact, no one seems to breath either.
I look at this woman in this dark separate world she’s in and my eyes travel around. The lighting is dim, and the cement that is covering what seems to be every inch makes the air damp and chilled. The booth, which she sits in, is cramped and impersonal except for a single picture of a smiling man in uniform taped to a dirty sliding window. My eyes travel down towards the cash register where a flattened sandwich and coffee sit. Even further down there is a small garbage can over flowing with ticket stubs and candy bar wrappers. Everything about this place is ordinary and lifeless except for the man. My eyes draw naturally back to him and I stare for a moment.
“My son.” The woman states, and for a moment her lips curl upwards, instantly improving her looks. I realize at that moment that we had been sitting in silence the entire time I had been observing and she had been patiently waiting for us to notice the picture. The blonde boy swallows loudly, hopefully gulping down his arrogance, noticing the uniform on the boy and remembering what he had just previously said. She takes a deep breath and continues, “He was caught in a bombing over there. He went to school here before joining. The university gave me this job after the funeral to help me out, but it can get pretty lonely down here. I should be grateful. He was a great boy and he worked hard. You should now though, they weren’t just sitting around over there.” She continues to tell us about her son and the man that he was. At first I’m listening intensely, but my eyes begin to trail and once again I can’t help but be pulled into my own thoughts. I realize that for the first time in my life, I am witnessing true grief and at the same time a kind of courage I didn’t know existed.
You should know that in my life until that moment I had lived in a protected bubble of hopes and laughs and happiness. My parents’ marriage never had any bumps, I was the youngest of 3 older cheerful siblings, and at the age of 19 I had never even had to attend the funeral of someone I closely knew. I didn’t know what it was like to go without in any way, or even how to properly miss someone. I didn’t understand how someone like this woman could be so courageous in that even though she was completely broken, she could keep going. Wake up every day, and come to this dark and dreary place to do she had to.
Everyone’s laughter at a story she tells pulls me out of thought. The giggles subside and we can all tell that the conversation is over, and this meeting is done. We once again to thank her individually, and even the blonde haired boy goes up to shake her hand. The girl in front of me with long brown hair and a kind face lingers when she comes to the woman. Holding both of her hands she looks her in the eyes and says,
“You are brave. I hope you know that.”
The woman smiles softly and thanks her. Pulling away from us for one second she leans into her booth and comes back out with what seems to be her sons obituary and funeral program. She gives it to the girl and tells her not to forget about her son.
It’s my turn now and I’m choking back tears after what I had just seen. I some how manage to blubber out “thank you”, shake her hand, and make my feet walk towards the waiting elevator. We all silently go up to the main level and part ways with out a word to each other. Everyone but me takes the east-facing door to go to his or her next class but I don’t feel ready to leave just yet. I look back at the elevator and part of me wishes I could travel back down and tell her that this grief is temporary and someday she’ll be okay, but I can’t find it in myself to do that. Instead I wander aimlessly in the building connected to that dark parking lot and finally settle in a corner chair by a large window. I’m consumed now with the sadness of that woman, and the realization that terrible things really do happen to nice people. Curled in my own little ball I know how pathetic I must look to the other students but at that moment I really just could not care less. I sit like this for some time until I finally pull out my phone and call my father, hoping he’ll know exactly what to say just like he always does. As I listen to the soft hum of the ring waiting for him to answer I already know exactly what I want him to tell me.
I want him to tell me that the woman really is happy, and that I imagined it all. That someday she will stop missing her son and will finally look to the world with strength. I feel weak that I can’t handle this on my own and need my father to soothe me, but you must realize that I’m not simply calling him for comfort and for him to tell me she'll be okay; I’m calling him because I want him to tell me that sadness like that will never reach me.