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SCARBOROUGH FAIR is currently hosting a Flash Fiction and Poetry Contest open to all University of Toronto Students. The strongest pieces will be selected by a panel of judges and be published by Scarborough Fair.

The contest deadline is October 31st 2015 at 11:59 PM.     

CLICK HERE for complete submission details.


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Loud Mind, Silent Words

Andrew Westoll


I stepped into the front car of the train and took a seat. To everyone else, I seemed like the everyday passenger with my expressionless face. What they didn’t know was that I was facing an introvert’s worst dilemma: forgetting your headphones. I’d now have to listen to the noisy world around me, hearing the various pitches and intonations of voices. I usually avoid taking public transportation. Nothing tragic happened to me as the reason why I stopped taking it, but being around a large number of people for an extended period of time is exhausting. If I have to take the train or bus, I block out the world with my headphones. That’s my comfort zone and I like to stay there for as long as possible.

So here I am, sitting on this train and having to deal with the noise around me. It’s uncomfortable to say the least, but that’s the whole purpose of this trip, right? To be in a discomforting situation. As we approached stations like Yonge, Bay, and St. George, more people came on and the train car became packed. This wasn’t surprising. We were downtown.

When we got to Kipling and everyone came off, I released a breath that I didn’t know I was holding. For just a few moments, I had the train car to myself. I made sure to soak up this short but needed moment of solitude. This was an introvert’s dream. No one to accidentally make eye contact with, no loud and obnoxious voices, and certainly no person to sit beside you. Then people started embarking on the train again to head back to Kennedy, and that moment of peace I had just a few seconds ago was gone.

Despite the fact that I don’t like hearing people’s voices, at Jane station I thought the complete opposite. A woman with short, greying, blonde hair, was talking to a man with dark, thin, balding hair. They didn’t look like friends, but were familiar with each other. Possibly acquaintances. He talked about how he spent more time with his younger kids than his older ones. He then asked the woman, “Do you have any kids?”

“No,” she laughs. “I never had the drive to do it.” She pumped her arms in the air for emphasis.

“All my friends have kids, except for me,” she goes on to say.

“Oh, really?”

I was slightly taken aback by this conversation. For her to reveal something that many would probably find private, in a public space, is quite intriguing. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re in an enclosed area, so it doesn’t feel like the other riders can hear their exchange.

I will admit, however, that I could understand her reasoning in some way. It’s almost expected for women to have children and when they say they don’t want any, they’re looked at as if something is wrong with them. When I was younger, I used to tell myself that I was going to have my first baby by twenty-five. I’m twenty-four now and I know for sure that a kid isn’t happening any time soon. I’m neither mentally nor financially ready for one. Babies are expensive and the results from Statistics Canada say so. The average cost of raising a child from birth to eighteen is about $253,946.97. I don’t have a job and I surely wouldn’t want to depend on my family financially, to help raise that infant.

Do I still want a kid? Possibly, if knowing the exact stroller brand you want is any indication. Maybe the idea of having one entices me but at the same time, I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for that task. I still want to enjoy life but I also don’t want to be too old to be ready. Once I have financial stability and can actually afford to have a child, then maybe. I also don’t want my family tree to just end with me and my brothers. It’d be pretty cool for my siblings to have a niece or nephew, for my mom to be a grandma, and my grandmother to be a great-grandma. I never got to meet my great-grandmother or my aunt as they both died years before I was even conceived. So to give my kid an experience that I didn’t get would be exceptional.

I wanted to ask the woman if she felt weird being the only one amongst her friends that wasn’t a mother. I held my tongue instead, not wanting to come off as nosy and eavesdropping on their seemingly private conversation.

At Coxwell, a young, black man came on and sat in front of me. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt, grey knee length shorts, and sneakers. He placed his Monster energy drink in between his shoes, and began singing to himself. Or maybe sang along to whatever song he was listening to since he had his earbuds in. I didn’t know the song he was singing but his voice wasn’t too bad. There was a coarseness to it, almost like he could be a reggae singer. It was also calming. For those few seconds he released his singing voice, I was transported back to Jamaica. In fact, his voice reminded me of Jamaican Reggae songs I’ve listened to, like “She’s Royal” by Tarrus Riley and “Or Wah” by Capleton.

Whenever I’m listening to music in public, I’ve never felt the need to outright sing. Actually, that’s a lie. I always want to sing along to the songs I’m listening to but I just mouth the words. I know my voice isn’t that great, even though one of my cousins told me that I have a nice voice. In 2008 or 2009, I was singing along to Backstreet Boys’ “Incomplete.” My cousin, who was staying in the basement at the time, called me to let me know that my singing was good. Whether she was only being nice or it was a genuine compliment, I felt good about myself nonetheless. The only times I like singing out loud is when no one else can hear me.

I was curious if the young man was from the Caribbean or at least had Caribbean parents. A part of me felt this need to ask but like the introvert I was, I sat there and said nothing. He ended up disembarking at the next stop.

After almost two hours, I was finally back at Kennedy station. I’m sure the seat I was on will be extra warm for the next person. I did a small stretch before stepping off. I was extremely pooped. My bed was calling and begging for me to sink into it.

To be fair, riding the train wasn’t as bad as I thought. It felt like a new experience because I was using the subway for the first time again, but it was tiring nonetheless. Earlier that day I’d driven to Waterloo and back, so my energy was already zapped. I wanted to sleep but couldn’t. In addition, not having my headphones made me highly uncomfortable but it helped in coming out of that comfort zone of wanting to block out the world.

I’ve always been like this, wanting to block out the world with my music, and most of it is due to my introversion, but there’s also another part of me that doesn’t want to hear people’s voices or have someone speak to me. Whenever my headphones are over my head, it’s a clear indication that I don’t want you to disrupt my moment of peace. It’s a flashing beacon saying, “Do Not Disturb.” I want to feel some semblance of solitude and headphones simply provide that. I don’t have to say anything unless I want to. If I have to speak, it usually means small talk and as an introvert, I detest certain forms of it. Like talking about the weather or politics. Engage me in something that gets me going, like TV.

Hearing that woman talk about not having kids, it felt like I had just gotten to know someone without having to talk to them. The young man who sat in front of me, I got to know his voice as he sang his tunes. Maybe not having headphones isn’t such a bad thing. I can get to know someone, even if it’s something small about them, without having to go out of my way to say, “Hi.”