/ Sharon Park (Writer), Kristy Lee (Illustrator)
Fiction — 3 min reading time
You only look up on the days I’m eating toast. But then again, I only notice in the brief moments we get to be with the sun.
It grounds me that this is all I’ve ever known while below: wake up at 8:27, no sun. Brush teeth and wash face under LED ceilings, no sun. Get dressed in incandescence, still no sun.
Here, there is no sun. It cannot hurt us. Not here.
But I miss it. I realize for the hundredth time while sipping on tea too hot and swatting Hyun’s nasty old cat away from the deflated, soggy tea bag. I’ve missed it enough to apply to the aboveground commuting program, enough to say goodbye to the peaceful, silent walks Hyun and I have taken together to classes and jobs for the past five years.
I’m running late as always, careful to grab the singed corners of my toast as I slip out the door.
9:17AM: rush hour. I push through right as the doors threaten to close, breathlessly mouthing apologies and sweat pricking through my roots. There is a spot to squeeze perfectly into. I want to imagine the tiny space left open is your doing. Sometimes I listen in on elders scolding you lightly for straining your eyes with those tiny books you carry. Causes wrinkles, you’ll look like me, they chide, and sometimes I can hear the low rumble of your laugh, hesitant but polite.
I’ll never admit how hard I strain to feel a hint of warmth from the chuckles in your throat, not even to myself. It’s at this point I want to look back and say something, anything, but before the words crawl out, it’s 9:20, when the speed picks up. A slight pressure applies to the chest with the feeling of bursting forward, upward, and then it’s just sun. Tinted, filtered, safe sun.
I can’t think of anything else when it hits, and I know everyone else feels the same. Minds blank, eyes shut, we breathe it in. That’s all I know: soft laughs, quick glances that come and go like the beams of light between pillars, between walls. And then it’s our stop. 9:47.
The day slurs by. In the brief time we’ve been down here, everything else slurs. But even when I don’t think of you throughout the rushed conversations and lengthy agendas and meetings under buzzing yellow light, I never tell you that I wait for you after the day is done and it’s time to see the sun again. 5:37PM.
I know it’s you behind me because of the way you clear your throat, as if there are words to spill out after. But the words never come, and the doors screech open for us to shoulder into. I grab the railing, keeping easy distance between us and look up in silent greeting. You nod back like you always do, lips pursed tight and eyes tired, dancing. The elders are right, I always recall; there are creases by your lids. And they’re crucial because they remind me to look away.
I train my eyes to the window to my right and you duck your head into that same tiny book and all of us are lulled into that exhausted, swelling silence. Nothing but the creaking and rumbling and rushing. The sun races us home, slowly sinking below the empty buildings we used to know, descending down those bare skyscrapers and silent streets. Through tinted windows, we watch the sky turn red, purple, and we look up, all of us.
It’s glorious and tense and still so silent when the sun sinks and the sky bruises and the doors open and we seep out. 6:03. Maybe this is all there is to say.