There were three dragons. A blue one was to her right. The green to her left. The red was in front of her, blocking her way. It was the most vicious. She knew the trick to this scenario. With a flick of her thumb, her avatar used both hands to heave up her bosom before she threw meat to the green dragon. A tap of a button caused her avatar to flip and sidestep the blue one, which caused the red dragon to lunge at her, but the blue dragon got it in its way. She skidded beneath the red dragon and was almost to the throne that got her to the next level when she saw her mom peek her head around the doorway. Three of her fingers hit keys at the same time, pausing the game and switching the screen to a document that contained a list of things she needed to accomplish before the night was over.
“Marcy, what are you doing? You have to pack. You’re leaving tomorrow and you’re wasting your time on that computer.”
“Mom. Mom. I’m just saying goodbye to my friends.”
She knew none of the people she gamed with were online. They lived in different time zones and it was the middle of the night for most of them. It was after ten pm where she was at on a Sunday.
“You and your computer games.”
“Mom. Mom. I’m not playing any games.”
“Why do you keep yelling ‘Mom. Mom?’”
Marcy laughed. “Because you keep saying you’ll miss it when I’m gone, so I’m getting you sick of it before I go.”
Her mom laughed.
“You don’t need to do that. I’m still going to miss you.”
Her mom was fussing through her suitcase.
“Mom. I’m almost twenty-one years old. I can pack my own suitcase. There’s not a lot I can take with me on the train.”
“You’re not taking your computer.” Her mom’s voice was firm.
“I know I can’t take the computer. I’m just taking clothes.’
“Do you have your suit?”
“Yes, I’m carrying that in the garment bag so it doesn’t get wrinkled, along with three blouses. Everything else will be in the suitcase.”
“It doesn’t look like much.”
“That is all I can carry on the train. Besides, I just need enough until I get a job. Crystal is providing a place for me to stay so I don’t need dishes or anything, you know.”
Crystal was her cousin who already lived in the city. Marcy knew she was one of the few advantages she had. The coveted place to stay.
“Karen says she has a nice apartment,” her mom said. “And that she has a good job and can be a reference for you.”
Karen was her mom’s sister, Crystal’s mom.
“Yes, I know. I’m hoping my two-year degree gives me an edge. And being bilingual will help.”
“No one speaks anything other than English. You’re in the middle of the country. You won’t be dealing with refuges or migrant workers. We don’t even get migrant workers up here.”
Marcy didn’t like how her mom dismissed that skill. Her resume looked barren as it was. If anything, it provided some content. She thought her string of part-time jobs provided a sketchy job history.
“You’ll have no problem finding a job,” her mom said, sounding confident.
Her mom finished rifling through her suitcase and left the room. Marcy turned back to her list. No matter how many changes she made, including wearing a backpack purse, there was no way she could make room in the suitcase for her computer. If she had a laptop, that would be different, but she had a large monitor and CPU box.
“I just know Crystal is going to have a crappy computer.”
She hated the thought of relying on another person’s computer, which was necessary for job searches. Yeah, in a pinch, she could use her phone. In fact, she had already installed the job app and had sent out ten resumes with the assumption that she would be in the city by the time she needed to schedule interviews.
She rose to put the last items into the suitcase and zip it up. There wasn’t much use going to bed. They had to be at the train station by two am and had at least an hour’s drive to get there.
Her father was already in bed. He said his goodbyes at dinner, since he had to get up early to do farm chores. She hadn’t even left yet, and he was being mopey since she wouldn’t be around to help him. Her older brother, Nile, lived in a nearby town as a tile layer. He didn’t like farm work. Her younger brother, Jason, was more interested in chasing his girlfriend and being a bum. At least that’s what their father called him. Jason called himself an artist. She had no idea what his art was. He moved out as soon as he was eighteen. They hadn’t seen him since, and that was a year ago. He sent the occasional email to let them know he was still alive and to ask for money, which she knew her father would never send, but her mom did on the sly.
“Do you have a book to read on the train?” her mom said, coming back in.
“I have games on my phone.”
“What do you do when the battery runs out? You’ll need your phone to call Crystal so she can pick you up.”
“I looked into it and you can charge your phone on the train. I’ll have my charger with me.”
“You should bring a book.” Her mom left again.
Marcy picked up the suitcase, her garment bag, and her purse to take to the front door. She set down the suitcase and laid the garment bag over it, then headed to the kitchen with the purse to inventory the contents. Her train ticket and wallet were handy in a side pocket. She had stripped down what she usually carried. There was a pen and a small pad of paper. Her phone charger, can of mace, some tissue, gum, and breath mints were the remaining items. She was bringing little cash since she had her credit card and a debit card. At least she had some money in the bank. She was a good saver, enjoying putting her meager paychecks into savings rather than spending it.
She waited for her mom to join her, knowing her mom would question everything she had packed. Her mom soon came in.
“Is that enough lunch? Food on the train is expensive,” her mom said.
“I have energy bars, a big sandwich, pudding, and that bag of nuts. Oh, I need to bring my water bottle.”
She rose to grab it out of the cabinet and fill it up.
“Good thing I’m checking. You almost forgot something,” her mom said.
Marcy nodded. She set the bottle down and ran upstairs to double check her list. The water bottle wasn’t on the list. She had everything else. The sound of her mom coming back up the stairs told her there was no way she could continue to play her game. She ended it and shut the computer down.
Before she went back downstairs, she stepped into the bathroom to make sure she had packed all her toiletries. All she saw were her parents’ things. In the mirror, she saw a nervous brunette with big brown eyes.
“Fuck,” she said to herself, feeling butterflies in her stomach. “This all better work.”
Everyone knew she was going. She couldn’t fail. If she did, everyone would know it. Everyone knew everything. She thought there was way too much gossip.
She was half sleeping on the couch when her mom came in.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. Time to go. Did you get any new emails from Crystal?”
“No. She’s sleeping by now. And has to work in the morning, but she said she’d be off by the time my train comes in. She says they’re rarely early.”
With both her and her mom carrying out items, it only took one trip to load the car. They drove the hour to the train station in silence.
Marcy didn’t know how she felt. There was the excitement due to moving out of her parent’s house. This was a new chapter in her life. The opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. There was also the fear and anxiety of going somewhere new, especially a large city where it might not be the safest.
Her mom must have been thinking the same thought.
“You have your little can of mace?”
Her mom parked in the small lot.
Marcy got out to get her luggage out of the backseat.
“I’d wait with you, but they won’t let me,” her mom said.
“Yes, I know.”
Her mom gave her a hug.
“You always have a home, you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Send us emails. Let us know how it’s going.”
“Yes, mom. I will.”
Marcy thought her mom looked ready to cry, but knew she wouldn’t. She would wait until her drive back home to cry.
“I’ll take care,” Marcy said to reassure her.
She slipped on her backpack purse, folded and clipped the garment bag to her suitcase and grabbed the handle.
“I’ll let you know when I arrive,” she said before her mom could tell her to.
Her mom nodded.
Marcy gave one wave before turning and heading into the station. An agent on duty checked her ticket before he allowed her to go out on to the train platform. She felt surprise to find more than a dozen people and that she knew none of them. This small station serviced a dozen small towns. She was also not the only one with luggage. There were a few other young people that she thought looked like college students, but if they were heading to the big city, then they were going to the University, not the little community type college where she attended.
She was glad everyone kept to themselves.
As expected, the train was late, but only by ten minutes. She hurried on and was glad to find a seat by the window close to the luggage rack.
The train jerked and surged forward. She took a deep breath. This was it. She felt committed to going all the way. There was no changing of her mind now.
Her plan was to get settled on the train and sleep, but she ended up staring out the window instead, even though it was dark and all she could see were lights. Besides, the train wasn’t quiet. She could hear the wheels on the tracks. And the train swayed. She could tell she wasn’t in a car, and her body wasn’t used to these unfamiliar sounds or movements.
Then there were the other people. She expected them to sleep, but they were all awake. All the younger people had earbuds in, listening to whatever was playing on their phones. One man looked like he was having a conversation with the window, but he was talking on a phone using a wireless bud stuck in his ear. Another old lady kept rustling through her packages as if she was making sure she had everything.
Marcy felt glad to find an outlet for her phone right by the window. There were two, and she expected the two were for use by both seats. She plugged in her charger to claim her outlet.
The first hour was quiet. She felt a little more comfortable, so she took her earbuds out from her purse, plugged her phone into the charger, and played some music. However, she kept the volume low, feeling like she still needed to hear what was going on around her, even if there was nothing.
She didn’t think she was naive, or totally unaware of the devious. Her brothers had taught her a lot. So did their friends. Their teachings weren’t intentional, since they involved deceptive and lies. Her younger brother, Jason, was still a master of it. At least her older brother, Nile, seemed to have matured and moved on through that stage. She felt really relieved when Jason moved out, although she had the feeling their father had given him an ultimatum.
The train slowed, reaching another station. She hadn’t paid attention to which station, but she felt some surprise at the number of people who got onboard. Seats filled up, and a woman sat beside her. Marcy didn’t think she would get to travel the entire way without a seat companion.
The woman just gave her the barest nod of acknowledgment before focusing on her own phone. Marcy nodded back and moved her focus to her phone.
The train continued on. However, the traffic through the car, which she thought should stop, continued. People cruised through as if looking for a seat or a person. There were still a few seats, but no one took them. She wondered if there was something wrong with the seats such as the people didn’t like who they would end up sitting next to. However, after watching them for a while, she decided otherwise.
A man seemed to lean over the woman next to her. Marcy thought she had dozed off, but suddenly jumped and swatted at the man’s hand that was reaching for her phone. He walked off as if nothing had happened.
Marcy now knew why no one slept unless they had a traveling companion to keep an eye out. She realized the people cruising through were looking for easy pickings amongst the sleepers or non-attentive.
She frowned. This was going to be a long train ride. At least now she knew that if she dozed off she needed to keep everything out of sight.
The train made another stop and more people got on.
A man sporting dreadlocks and ragged jeans entered the car. He looked around, but he didn’t seem to be like the other people cruising around. The others looked silently. He asked for change. People waved him off. He finally settled in the middle of the car, but he stood and writhed like a man in pain, occasionally making odd noises.
Marcy watched. It took her a few moments to realize he was dancing and the noise he made was his attempt at singing. However, he wasn’t staying just in the middle of the car. He slowly made his way along the seats, dancing as close to people as he could. One man handed him some paper money, and the dancer moved off. No one else handed him money, no matter how annoyingly close he danced to them or sang in their ear.
He approached her row, but she knew better than to make eye contact. Both she and her seat mate kept their focus on their phones. The man danced by them. She could now hear that his song included asking for change. Those were the only words she could pick out. She didn’t even recognize the tune he was singing. For over twenty minutes, he stood right beside her seat mate.
She felt enormous relief when he moved on. However, only forty minutes later, he worked his way back, but he didn’t linger as long near every seat. Finally, she saw him reach the far end and leave. She felt it curious that the man who had given him money also rose and left. The image that he might be the man’s partner flashed through her mind.
She really hoped the train wasn’t preparing her for the big city. Hopefully, her cousin Crystal would help keep her safe by teaching her the dos and don’ts, and more specifically, the areas to avoid. However, she had some nagging doubts. They weren’t new doubts, but old ones.
Her memories of Crystal weren’t the most favorable. Crystal liked to bleach her hair blond, and act ditsy, if it was an act. She had done some dumb things. Marcy wondered if the true dumb blonds were the bleached ones. However, the rumors back home were favorable. Crystal had a job, an apartment, and a car.
By dawn, there were no free seats in her car. Her seat mate and she had an unspoken agreement. If one left to go to the bathroom, the other saved their seat. It was working out to the point that Marcy even found time to take a nap, but she stashed her phone and charging cable and made her purse disappear beneath her shirt, so it wasn’t visible.
By noon, she had eaten her sandwich and drank all her water. She didn’t feel like eating or drinking any more. In a few hours, the train would arrive. She was tracking it on her app and it would be about forty-five minutes late, which she didn’t think was too late considering the distance she had traveled.
There were more people moving about. They all looked antsy to get to their destination. Marcy wiggled her feet up and down to get the circulation going in her legs.
Soon, she could see the skyline of the biggest city she had ever been to. If she couldn’t find a job there, then it was her own failings. Besides, if her ditsy cousin could do it, so could she.
The train slid into the station. Everyone was now crowding the aisle.
She had her exit choreographed in her head. As soon as she could, she slid out to the aisle and to the luggage rack to grab her bags. Relief flooded through her that they looked like no one had tampered with them. Then she headed down the stairs and out onto the station platform.
She knew she had to follow the exit signs down another staircase and out into an open area. Her cousin was recognizable in an instant.
“Marcy, girl.” Crystal looked fashionably dressed and quite mature,
Her face was made up and her hair, still bleached blond, was perfectly pulled back without a hair out of place.
Marcy felt that things were going to be okay. This was all going to work.