Instructions: Observe other people’s behavior in public place, especially odd or intriguing acts. Create a character and put them in this place, give them two traits: a behavior you observed and a negative trait about yourself. Now, write 300-600 words describing the character in the context of the place without writing anything directly about the character. In fact, write as if the character is not even present at the place during the time you’re writing it. Try to allow the reader to discover both of the character’s traits indirectly. This assignment is about implication, about leading the reader to see the character without directly describing him/her.
As the train doors open with a mechanical sound, a familiar pungent smell creeps into my nostrils. Durian. I looked up irritably to get a view of the offender to my olfactory system. The sole suspect just stepped in, a massive middle-aged man perspiring through his armpits. He heaves breathily as he slumps into the seat directly opposite me, carelessly tossing a big black plastic bag containing the awful fruits in the adjacent empty seat. He unwraps a Big Mac burger, swallows ravenously and finishes it just within the time the train needs to reach the next station. He then reaches into his trousers pocket to take out a palm-size black metallic object. It takes me a full second to realize that it is a cellphone. I mean, that thing still has buttons.
I keep my gaze at him, feeling amazed as I witness him holding the cellphone with his left hand and then pushes the buttons with his right hand’s chubby index finger. Who does that? He does not seem to notice my voyeuristic stare at all until the moment he presses the phone on his ear and tilts his head up. Luckily, at that moment the train reaches Lavender Station and some new passengers walk in. I divert my gaze to them – a ponytailed woman with huge headphones, a sleepy-looking dude in blue scrubs, and a skinny boy carrying a guitar. Anyone of them is a much more welcomed view than this obnoxious uncle.
My nose starts to get used to the durian smell by the time we reach the next station. I start to ignore the Durian Guy, until a loud “Hey!” comes from his direction. It startles me and by reflex I turn my sight to him again. He was talking to his phone. “Hey, darling!”
Scanning the other passengers, I immediately feel surrounded by faces with irritated look. A plump woman with a baby sleeping in her arms frowns deeply. She makes an approaching gesture toward the Durian Guy.
“Yes, I’m still in office now,” everyone within earshot can hear the Durian Guy says, ”I’ll need to run to a meeting soon.”
The woman with the baby stops her movement and I see her expression changes from irritation into interest. The ponytailed woman pulled down hear headset, subtly. I smirked. I feel my earholes widening too.
“Oh yes, yes, darling,” the Durian Guy continues to talk loudly, but nobody seems to mind it now. The dude in scrubs has fully opened his eyes now.
“You know how I always need to work overtime for this client. Yes. What, Aaron? Now?”
Durian Guy’s sudden panic expression brings joy to my heart. No longer grinning, his eyes roll quickly around the car, as if looking for an answer to give the person on the line. Durian Guy lowers his voice, “Uh, why you wanna talk to him now? I told you we’re going to a meeting soon.”
I feel the train decelerating and realizes we’re reaching City Hall Station soon. I bet the Durian Guy senses this as well, because he quickly yells that he needs to: “run to the meeting now and bye, bye, darling, I love you,” – as if fearing the person on the line will hear the sound of the train’s PA system announcing the next station.
He collects the bag of thorny fruits, raises from his seat and alights off the train car quickly. Too bad the Durian Guy was only on the train with me for four stops. Now I’ll have to sit through another ten boring train stops before reaching home.
I wrote this story with Singapore in mind, but wanted to make this as broad as possible to apply to other cities’ trains, too.
Just some fun facts: In Singapore, you can get fined for drinking or eating on bus / train, unless you do it sneakily. The last time I check, durians are still prohibited on trains, too. Also, these aren’t key to the story, but I thought it’d be fun to share my thought process: Four train stops before City Hall station is Aljunied station – the closest one to Geylang area, a famous red light district. Best durians in Singapore can be found there, too.