1st Place Category 2: The Waiting Man
Winner Category 2 (Ages 15 to 17)
by Andria Wu, Age 16, US
The Waiting Man
The train station was hot, the air thick and muggy with the presence of people. As the 5:50 arrival from Hangzhou poured out of the gate, a bead of sweat rolled down Shan’s face, then along his jaw before dripping off his chin. Shan tugged at his shirt collar and squinted into the sea of newcomers. Some towed along luggage, some had arrived empty-handed. None of them wore the red hat his online girlfriend had said to look for.
Of course, Shan knew what she looked like; they had Skyped several times. For the first time in two years, they were scheduled to meet, and in all honesty, he couldn’t wait. He held a brilliant bouquet of red roses in his hand. They were a typical, romantic flower, but they were Meifeng’s favourite, and Shan knew that she would be delighted to have them.
He’d arrived over half an hour early to meet her and now that the train had arrived, he was only waiting for the moment that they spotted each other. He had played out the scene in his mind several times, with several possibilities.
Yet as the crowd thinned, Meifeng was still nowhere to be found. Shan looked around, half-expecting her to be running over, grinning and waving, long hair flowing behind her. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t be able to see her; he was quite large, as his name would suggest. He was a literal mountain––a two-meter tall young man with a broad frame, buzzed hair, and a thick neck.
He’d worn his best shirt to meet Meifeng, though it was quickly becoming damp in the evening’s heat. He loosened his tie; it was choking him.
A young girl dragging a big black luggage paused on her way by, glancing first at the flowers in Shan’s hand and then up at his face, a quizzical look in her eyes. He swallowed hard, suddenly feeling self-conscious to be standing, waiting at the now deserted gate, and he turned away quickly, reaching into his pocket for his cellphone.
Meifeng’s last message had been a cheerful: “On my way to the train station––see you in six hours!!!” There were no new messages from her, despite those that he had sent earlier, the ones saying:
“I am on my way to pick you up.”
“Is the train close?”
“Please let me know when you have arrived.”
Shan considered writing a new message.
“Ah-ya––there you are!” a voice called.
He whirled, a smile beginning to spread across his lips, only to see a woman who was clearly not Meifeng, hurrying towards a young child, hand outstretched. At this disappointing sight, Shan felt his heart sink again.
His hands were sweating, the pretty wrapping around the flowers crinkled from where he had been holding the bouquet. And still, no one emerged from the gate, no straggler hurried out––no Meifeng.
Shan finally gave in to his concern, dialing her number, and biting his lower lip as he put his phone to his ear. Für Elise played as he waited for Meifeng to pick up, to give her usual, cheerful greeting, “Wei?”
The memory of such a hello was so fresh in Shan’s mind that he went half-mad as the other end of the line continued to ring and it became apparent that his expectation would not be met. Yet, as the call was about to ring through, and Shan was about to hang up, it was answered.
“Wei?” It was a woman’s voice, but decidedly not Meifeng’s.
“Is this Zhang Meifeng’s cellphone?” Shan frowned.
There was a rustling of papers and then, “Indeed. I apologize. My name is Dr. Li Huaming from the Hangzhou No.1 Municipal Hospital.”
Everything seemed to freeze. Shan felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and fancied he could hear the slow thu-thump of his terrified heart. Then distantly, as if the voice were coming from the other side of an empty field, he heard, “I am sorry to report that Ms. Zhang was killed in by a car in front of the Hangzhou Railway Station earlier this afternoon. May I know your name? Are you family? Sir?”
Time unfroze. The cellphone crashed to the floor. Shan’s eye were wide, his mouth agape. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be.
The room spun before him. Suddenly, Shan couldn’t breathe.
“Sir?” He heard someone calling after him. “Sir, are you okay? Wait, you dropped your phone!”
He dashed away from them, away from the gate and his anticipations and hopes and dreams. The night was muggy, no cooler than the train station, and he found no cool relief, leaning against the wall of the building.
Shan clenched his fists and looked down upon feeling plastic in one of them. The roses, looking a bit worn from his mad escape from the station, were still with him. Red roses––Meifeng’s favorite.
In denial, without thinking, and with a yelp of horror, Shan threw the bouquet as if it had burned him. The flowers soared through the air and flopped pathetically into the busy road in front of the railway station, where they were immediately hit by an oncoming car.
Red rose petals exploded across the street, splattering like blood.
Andria Wu is a currently a junior in high school. In her free time, Andria most enjoys to write and most often takes inspiration from the people she sees around her. Besides writing, she enjoys drawing, reading, and hanging out with friends and family.