You weren’t crying. You weren’t. Maybe you were sniffling a little bit, but no one around here should notice that. You’re in a train station so early on a weekday morning, rush hour, it looked like. People in these parts were polite, even to strange foreigners like you. But it was rush hour–the whole lot of them were milling, streaming in different directions, with no reason to pay attention to you, the lost, starving, little thing burdened by luggage and standing all alone in a corner.
You heard it this time. It came from much closer.
You turned your head and saw his eyes first. Small but wide, then he backed up and you saw his face, high cheekbones, sharp nose, lips parted with the questioning end of that hello.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Somebody who spoke English, thank dear lord in heaven. Your heart pounded against your rib cage in joy. Saved! But then it was yanked back by something stronger, tougher. The same force that had kept you standing there for half an hour now. You made it across oceans, didn’t you? You got on that plane and you got off, no incidents. You made it from the airport to this station, didn’t you? No getting lost. And the map and your host’s directions promised a leisurely walk from here to your destination. But still it was crippling you, that infinite hole of familiar anxieties. Why did you even think you could survive this trip on your own? Why did you even want to take it?
The boy had sidled closer. You felt a soft fingertip poke the very top of your shoulder.
You breathed in and out. In and out. Focused on the feeling of that unknown touch light on your sweater. Poke. Poke. Then, absence.
You opened your eyes, realizing only now that you had closed them. People and luggage were still moving in a dizzying speed around you, spinning like tornadoes. The clock up the wall was still ticking. Your breathing had slowed.
A waft of something tangy and sweet filled your nose. Your empty stomach responded first, then you turned your gaze back beside you.
He was holding up a small paper bag, pried open, and smiling. Small. Tentative.
“Curry pan?” he said.
Your stomach was rumbling now, and you knew there was no such luck he didn’t hear it. He was standing close enough. Not to mug you, or take you. Not to hurt you like you’d been fearing all strangers, all people would. Maybe because he was polite, because they did say people were polite in these parts, didn’t they? Maybe because he was kind, and he had time.
You reached out for the bread, your fingertips tapping lightly on his open palms. He was nodding, slow, deliberate dips of his chin, eyes on you, but his gaze was careful, not intense, like he was trying to pet a stray cat who could run away any moment.
“Thank you,” you said. You held his gaze for a few seconds more, ensuring permission, then you bit into the warm, gooey, spicy goodness of the bread.
He laughed, a shrill giggle you didn’t expect from a face like his. Then he stopped himself short, delicate fingers pressed against his mouth, eyes wide and watching.
You laughed too, finally. The first one since you’d taken that plane. Since it had sunk in that you were really doing this, taking this trip on your own, knowing that you could do it and you wanted to, damn it. But the fears and the voices were coming along too, and there was only so much you could do about that. But what you could do, you would.
You took another bite, and another. The bread was so good. Your stomach, your skin felt so warm. You wiped a crumb from your lip with the side of your hand, the better to smile at him. At this kind, lovely stranger.
“Hello,” you said.
Kwon Jiyong and MOTTE reminiscing for the prompt.