When she first saw him, her eyes were rimmed red and the edge of her sleeves were bloody. He looked straight at her as if there was no one else in the cold, glaring bright train. No one else seemed to notice her. A woman’s head leaned against the side of the train, her mouth slightly open as she slept. A sullen youth with a black anti-ISA T-shirt was frowning as he texted furiously on his mobile phone.
There were many empty seats, but he was standing insouciantly against the metal pole. She broke the glance, pretending to root for a tissue paper. She just caught her boyfriend screwing her best friend like a banal romance novel and almost succeeded in scratching the bitch’s face with a shard of glass. But he gripped her wrist and wouldn’t let go, even as she squeezed the glass hard and watched it drop rubies down her skin.
He had only released her once she dropped the glass. He kicked it aside and tried to comfort the bitch, ignoring her blood that stained the white marble floor.
“Get out,” he told her.
She did. She wanted to come up with a sharp retort, restore some semblance of dignity, but the words caught in her throat. And now, she was stuck in the train with a creep staring at her. She had better days.
When the train approached Asia Jaya, she got up and walked out quickly, feeling his eyes follow her before the doors shut.
It was almost midnight when she reached her apartment. She turned on the shower and sobbed as the hot water pummelled her back, running gently over the deep cut inside her palm.
Katherine did not intend to stay in the office late that night. And it seems, neither did Jon. So when it happened, it caught them both by surprise.
“It’s just once,” said Jon, pulling on his pale blue shirt.
“Yes,” she replied, adjusting her skirt.
“No more,” he said.
“No more,” she echoed.
He kissed her on the forehead before leaving the office.
“Cheer up,” he told her, with a sad smile. He did not know what else to say; his wife was still waiting up for him though he had asked her to go to sleep.
Katherine nodded and left. The last train had already left hours ago, so she took a cab home. Her apartment seemed emptier with her inside. The silence pressed down upon her like a swamp, dank and cold. She could see the city skyline from the window on her 14th floor – vague and blurry behind clouds. It reminded her of the time she made love for the first time, to a man 15 years her senior. But the city skyline had been brighter then, lights sprinkled across the pitch black sky like tiny stars. She watched a blue movie, had some cheese and a glass of wine, and masturbated before she fell asleep.
It was not very awkward when Katherine bumped into Jon. She smiled at him in a lift, stared at the ceiling, and walked out without turning around when her floor came up.
“The girls wanna go for a drink tonight. Changkat. Coming?” Sue Ling asked.
She looked up from the pile of papers on her desk and shook her head.
“I’ve got a ton of work to do. Murder trial next Monday. Maybe some other time?”
A man had been charged with murdering his daughter. Katherine had offered to be his lawyer pro-bono. It was one of the things that made her feel less guilty about earning oodles of cash from defending white-collar crooks. He had slit his 16-year-old daughter’s throat in her sleep, claiming that God told him she had been possessed by the devil.
“I was saving her soul,” he had said, with glittering eyes. “Now, she will be in heaven.”
He said God’s voice had burrowed into his mind for days, telling him to kill his daughter lest she murder his entire family. He had no choice.
When the police arrived, they found the girl splayed across the bed, the sheets crimson red. He was crammed tight into a corner, his thumb in his mouth as he rocked himself gently to-and-fro. A bloody knife lay beside him, gleaming upon the marble floor.
A psychiatrist told Katherine that the man was suffering from schizophrenia. He had stopped taking his medicine several weeks before the incident. He was insane, the psychiatrist declared. Katherine nodded. The judge would likely agree and spare him the gallows. Child’s play.
But Katherine did not feel like going with Sue Ling and the gang. It felt banal, like warm milk and cookies. She knew they would drink themselves silly, bitch about Sarah and moon over Tim, the hot young legal assistant who just entered the firm two weeks ago.
“You guys go ahead and have fun,” said Katherine.
“But it’s Friday night! Come on!” Sue Ling pleaded.
“Why are you so acting so weird?” Sue Ling said. “Live a little. You can finish up your work tomorrow.”
Katherine shook her head and told Sue Ling to go ahead.
When she left, the office was silent as a tomb. Katherine’s room, filled with tall piles of papers and files, remained lit while most of the office was shrouded in darkness. Katherine continued typing, stopping occasionally to look out the window. As she watched the lights dance across the shimmering air, she heard footsteps approaching.
It was strange; she thought she was the last to leave. She turned around and saw Jon, leaning nonchalantly against the side of the door. He did not smile at her.
Katherine stood up and walked towards him.
“Jon – ” she began.
He grabbed her face and kissed her full on the lips.
It was not love or even lust. It felt like an animal expression of pent-up rage that sought to overpower and subdue, control and dominate. Jon wasn’t looking for sex; he merely wanted to establish control in just one area of his life, when everything else was slipping out of his grasp.
Katherine had met his wife once at a company dinner. Her hair was teased into a huge explosion and she looked down her nose at everyone as she sauntered on her Jimmy Choo stilettos. Jon looked like an accessory on her side, though it was he who introduced her to everyone. When he introduced her to Katherine, his wife sniffed, asked her about the weather, and promptly turned to a Datin who passed by in a noxious cloud of perfume.
She probably only allowed Jon to have sex with her once a week, during the weekend. Katherine could picture her lying on her back, with a bored expression on her face as she waited for the ignominious deed to finish.
So when Jon kissed Katherine, she knew that it wasn’t much of a lover’s illicit kiss, but a cry for help. The first time they made out was an accident, a random act fuelled by lust and some whiskey in a flask.
Jon pushed Katherine onto her desk, and fell on her, ignoring her cries of pain. When it was over, two of her buttons were missing and her hair was dishevelled. She lay across the carpeted floor, unmoving. Jon took his coat from the chair and left.
She heard a switch and the door close. Then, she got up, arranged her clothes the best she could, and left her office to look for a train.
It was the final train that night. She stepped into the garish lights when the train slowed to a stop at the station. There were only a few people in the train, most of whom were sleeping. The man whom she saw the other day was standing there again, leaning against the metal pole. He stared at her without blinking, as if she was the only one in the entire world shrunk into that small, single carriage. Bright and lonely, cutting through the night echoing grief and exhaustion as its inhabitants pondered their little, meaningless lives.
He moved toward Katherine languidly and asked her name.
Part 2 of The Night Train continues tomorrow.