Author: Alzo David-West

The day had been long and busy. I was on the Marsport Metro on my way home. The pilotless shuttle shook and rattled and made its usual stops.

The time was late, and not many people were on board. At one of the stops, a woman of thirty-eight or thirty-nine entered. She dressed like a twentieth-century factory worker. She wore a blue headscarf, a very plain grey dress, and dusky vinylon shoes. She was carrying a fishbowl.

The woman sat by the shuttle door. We were across from each other. The doors closed, and the shuttle started.

I saw the fishbowl was cracked. There was nothing inside. I wondered where she was taking it. The shuttle made a few stops. The few other passengers disembarked each time. After a while, the woman and I were the only ones left.

She sat still the whole time, looking at the fishbowl, and she started to cry. I thought she was afraid to be alone with me.

“Sister, it’s okay,” I said gently. “I’m a father, with a wife and a three-year-old daughter.”

The woman did not respond. The shuttle made another stop, but she took no opportunity to get off. She was still crying. The shuttle resumed its course and was shaking.

“Sister, are you okay?” I asked. She stopped crying. The tears dried and stained her cheeks.

“You must be assured,” she muttered downwardly. “You must be assured with your daughter and your wife.”

I felt I should speak honestly. “I’ve had my share of hard times and worries,” I said. “They’ve affected me over the years, and my health is not very good, but I love my wife and my daughter.”

She was quiet. A faint twist passed on the left side of her face. Maybe I said too much, I considered. She began to caress the fishbowl.

“What’s your work?” she asked indistinctly.

“I’m a mineral trader operating from Albor Tholus,” I answered. “I buy and sell to various habitable satellites.”

“I’m a sewing factory worker from Terra Sirenum,” she volunteered briefly.

She was not afraid of me, I could tell, but she still seemed troubled. The fishbowl sat on her lap. The shuttle was swaying. I asked as before, “Sister, are you okay?”

“There were two goldfish inside,” she said slowly, “but I dropped it, and now, the goldfish are gone.”

Was that all it was? I thought to myself. Why should she be so sad? Could she not buy another fishbowl and get two other fish? So I said in some uplift, “Oh, sister, don’t worry. It’s such a little thing.” I reached into my shirt pocket, and I offered her a renewable credit voucher, assuming she was in need.

The woman looked at the smart card in my hand, and for the first time on the ride, she turned her gaze at me. Her face was worn with anguish, and her eyes were like an empty sea. She looked down, into the bowl. I felt a turn in my stomach.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

She did not say anything, and I did not know if I should speak again. The shuttle shook and rattled and made its usual stops. The lights flickered. We came to a stop near Alba Patera, and the shuttle doors opened. The woman got up from her seat, holding the fishbowl.