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  • Catalina

I am You

Magda looked outside the window, as images of the countryside distilled by the wet glass rapidly moved away from her.

‘Thirty-five minutes to the next stop’ she sighed, looking at her wristwatch. Her tired eyes lingered on the digital white numbers for a few more seconds. She wished all of this was over; the commute, the night shift, the never-ending feeling of exhaustion. Sleep crept in slowly through her half-open eyelids and her chin touched her chest ever so slightly before the falling-like sensation made her body react back to a state of half-awareness.

Some cold water was surely going to help. She got up, grabbed her tote bag, and tried to identify where the nearest toilet was. She started walking to the end of the corridor, through a mostly empty carriage. The slow ‘tud-tud’ sound and the swaying movements of the train on its unbothered way to the next station gave her a much-welcomed feeling of calmness. She found the toilet and went in.

Magda was a nurse. She used to love her job. It gave her an unmeasurable feeling of satisfaction. But lately, she had become aware that satisfaction could, in fact, be measured. She could measure it against being understaffed all the time, against burnout; she could measure it against not being able to pay her bills and her daughter’s tuition fees without working relentlessly day and night, against not having a social life, against feeling like a failed mother for not being more present in her daughter’s life. Sometimes she sat on her sofa, before leaving for work, and wondered if there were human beings out there, in the vast unknown beyond planet Earth, that battled the same demons as hers. She went through her very own catalogue of ‘what ifs’.

She splashed her face one last time and left the cramped cubicle. She searched inside her bag for her sanitising spray and as she looked back up, she saw someone at the end of the corridor, getting ready to take her seat. It was a woman with long brown hair, twisted in a bun. Magda thought it curious that they were wearing the same colour cardigan and the same hairstyle but did not stop to dwell on it. The woman did not sit down after all, and she exited the carriage by the other end door before Magda could approach her. No harm done.

Magda sat down, placing her bag on her lap. She checked her watch again, and strangely, it still showed 08:22. As if time had stood still since she first left her seat. If her daughter had been there, she would have said something fantastical and completely silly like ‘We have now entered a parallel dimension, and this is the message to tell you that time is not flowing the way it always has.’ It was Sandra’s way of making light of a stressful situation. She had dreams of becoming a writer one day.

But Magda just shrugged off the watch being incorrect, she did not have the energy to be fussed over it. These smart watches were not always that smart after all. It was not the first time it played this trick on her in the past few weeks. It was probably time for her to replace it. Maybe go back to an analogue, at least when those stopped you could easily get the battery changed.

As she waited for time to pass and her stop to come up, debating in her mind the use of a digital smart watch over that of an analogue, Magda noticed a piece of paper left on the seat next to her. She took it and unfolded it. Scribbled down were some aberrant characters that Magda had never seen before. Another shrug followed, and she put the paper in the bin under her seat’s table. In the most peculiar way, however, a few seconds later, when her eyes fell on the seat next to her again, another piece of paper appeared.

‘Well, what the…’ she let out an equally confused and annoyed whisper. There was nobody sitting near her, the other three passengers in the carriage were near the back-end door.

She thought she must have been so tired, that she did not notice there had been two pieces of paper on the chair. She forgot to wonder where they came from in the first place. Puzzled, she discovered the same blabber on this paper too.

She sighed, with some irritation. She checked her watch again, both out of habit and a growing sense of restlessness: 08:22.

‘Oh, for the love of…’ she muttered, then she noticed another piece of paper on the seat next to her.

The message was the same unrecognisable rubbish. A rush of blood to the head made her get up and speak out loud:

‘Which one of you thinks this is funny?’ holding the paper above her head, for all three passengers to take note. Seeing that she woke someone up made her feel marginally guilty. She might have been really tired, but she was not dumb. She was aware that she will have looked quite ridiculous to those people who had not put the stupid paper on her chair.

She sat back down, feeling somewhat embarrassed. Was she overreacting? Was it the exhaustion enhancing everything? Maybe she should just ignore the piece of paper…

She looked at the time again. It now said 00:35. Magda gave up, defeated. Then she saw the woman from before, on the other side of the door now, in the next carriage, coming out of the toilet.

She tried ignoring her at first, but she got intrigued by her movements. She had the bizarre feeling that she was looking at herself, but from a few minutes ago. There was a creepy familiarity to her mannerisms that Magda could not look away from: the way she tucked her loose hair behind her ear when she came out of the cubicle, the way she searched inside her bag, then quickly around her. That’s when Magda caught a glimpse of the woman’s face. She recognised her features and felt instant dread. She was Magda, with the same long, freckled nose, same lips, thinned out by age, and the same scar on her right temple, from falling off a chair about three years ago, while painting the kitchen ceiling on her own. Magda was looking at Magda.

‘What the hell is this?!’ she jumped off her chair, and walked towards the door, hands pressed against it.

‘Hey! Hey, who are you?’ she pushed the button, trying to open the door and go through, but it was jammed. Her flustered breath fogged up the glass. A trace of the same message that was written on the three pieces of paper before could be made out on it now. The same eerie symbols, but they were now turning into ‘I am you’.

Magda looked up in angst, eyes bulging. The other Magda met her frightened gaze. For a split second, she looked like a monstruous being. Magda’s shock-stricken brain could not process the ghastly view.

The other Magda smiled back at her in return.

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