If you asked most of the people what their favorite day of the week was, they probably would say either Saturday or Friday. If you asked Jim Halpert the same question, he would definitely say Tuesday and Thursday — and he had a pretty good reason for that. These days Roy Anderson worked in a warehouse across the city; these days, Pam Beesly went home alone, and he could pretend that they were coming home together.
In the earlier days, when Jim had thought that he would have gotten over his crush on an engaged woman quicker if he had witnessed her happiness with her fiance, he had made several mistakes leaving the office together with them. Later, Jim made an excuse by an excuse to avoid that, saying he had to finish his papers or that he was going to workout in the gym or that he planned to meet with friends in a bar in a different direction. He thought up anything that could help him to avoid that awkward silence when no one could find a common theme to talk about, the sight of a fleshy arm around Pam’s narrow shoulders or half-horrified half-embarrassed expression on her face that appeared every time Roy said something insensitive.
But there were other days when it was so easy to forget about Roy Anderson’s existence.
These days, Tuesdays and Thursdays, they left the office building together. Truth to be told, at first, it had been a coincidence, that they’d left the office building together; but soon it became a tradition, something that (to Jim’s delight) they both anticipated.
There were two paths to the metro station — a short one, by the highway, and a long one, across the park; they always chose the long one. Jim deliberately slowed his pace, to measure it with Pam’s and to stretch this time as much as it was possible. Pam clutched her purse, and Jim hid his hands in his pockets; there were too many moments when the most natural thing to do was to take her hand and lace his fingers with hers, and the impossibility of this doing was sometimes too much to bear. They discussed the latest Dwight’s inanity or the films they wanted to watch or simply laughed; indeed, they didn’t even need to have a particular subject to talk about to have a great time together. Sometimes, they continued playing the twenty questions game they’d once started; the twenty questions turned into thirty, and they — into fifty. If Jim kept counting, he would say they were on their one hundred sixty-fourth question; but he had lost count many, many days ago.
They reached the metro station and started to go underground. The escalator ride was quite long; Pam stood two stairs above Jim, so their eyes were on the same level. It was the last chance for them to speak before the clatter and rumble of the trains made it impossible. Also, this descent was always a test of his willpower — to keep the conversation light and not to stare into her eyes or at her lips; he ended with looking at her nose bridge as the middle ground between looking away and staring creepily.
Their station was the second after the terminus, so when the train arrived, it was almost empty. Pam usually took a seat, fished her phone out the purse and sent a message or two — to Roy, to her mom or her sister; Jim never knew for sure and, honestly, didn’t want to know. When she finished with it, she raised her head and gave Jim, who leaned to the handhold near the bench she was sitting, a small smile. He returned it. They both were silent.
The next station was the big one and the wagon filled with people, returning from their workplaces as well. Pam always stood up, proposing to sit an older person, or a parent with a kid, or just someone, who looked especially tired. She stood near Jim then, and the crowd around pushed them closer to each other, and this particular moment was the sweetest and the bitterest at the same time. She was as close to him as she could be; but the next station was her station to leave.
The ride between these stations, though, was one of the longest in the whole metro system. Jim had told her once that there was a station that was built but never opened on the way; ever since when the train scarcely slowed down, Pam looked at the window to try to notice an empty and dark platform. When she did see it, she always looked at him, as if she shared some secret knowledge with him; this look made his heart swell.
Sometimes, though it was a rare occasion, the train jerked unexpectedly, and she lost her balance. When it happened, his hand flew immediately to her, to keep her steady and to save her from falling. Pam always said sorry and complained about her clumsiness; Jim wondered what she would say if she knew about the thrills he gained from these innocent touches. He saved the ideas of less innocent touches for later and more secluded places. Perhaps, it was wrong to think that way about his friend — and another man’s fiancée — but he just couldn’t help it.
Sometimes, and that happened even rarer than her losing balance, Pam remembered something particularly funny or endlessly essential and had an urge to share it with Jim immediately. She made a gesture, and he lowered his head to her; she whispered that she wanted to say in his ear, but he barely caught the meaning of what had been said. The sensation of her breath on his skin obscured the words. Jim made a face to her as if he hadn’t caught what she’d said, and she repeated; her whispering sent chills down his spine. He whispered his answers back and her hair tickled his nose; he saved that feeling into his mental ‘Pam-box’, that kept everything about her — from her first ‘hi!’ to him to the scent of her shampoo and her favorite yogurt flavor. It was a pity what usually she was so silent on the ride home.
But these blessed four to five minutes of her nearness inevitably came to an end. The train stopped at her transfer station, and she waved goodbye, moving to the exit. Many people left here, even more — came into the wagon. Jim watched her pink coat, the only colorful spot in the sea of black, brown, and dark blue outerwear. But she disappeared from his sight too quickly. The doors were closed; the train moved on.
When Jim was alone again, he reached his pocket and took his iRiver with earbuds. He scrolled through it mindlessly and chose a random song. But even if it appeared to be a heavy metal ballad or punk rock song, it still vaguely reminded him of Pam.
‘Oh, my little girl with sad eyes,
Oh, my golden fate and rest,
I continue with my screaming
For the night is bare and vast.’
Jim smirked humorlessly. Just a couple of years ago, using these lines accompanied by nicely done chords and a few jokes had been a reliable way to gain a phone number from this or that charmed dorm girl. And here he was, having heartache from the song he had used to hit on girls. He wondered what Pam would think about his performance if she ever heard it. He asked himself if there was a song that made Pam love him.
The station went after the station; the train crossed the bridge over the river, and Jim narrowed his eyes at the setting sun. But then the train went underground again, and Jim was surrounded by darkness, artificial lights, and clattering that sounded even louder than the music in his ears.
Every time Jim got off the metro on his station, he couldn’t stop thinking about how much the creator of his neighborhood despised people. Dozens and dozens of towers of bricks, concrete, glass — the human anthills that made everyone trapped inside feel miserable and insignificant. Everything is cold and grey; the only bright things here were the signboards of the shops. And yet, Jim was sure that Pam could find something beautiful and inspiring even in this place. He knew the area where she rented an apartment, and he heard her ranting about her landlord enough to create the image of her site: old panel buildings, nosy and loud neighbors, a tiny apartment with one kitchen and one room that was a bedroom, a dining room and a living room at the same time. But she kept bringing photos of flowers blooming around those indistinguishable brown five-story buildings or stray kittens peeking through the cellar window, and Jim was just amazed by her ability to see the beauty in the ordinariness around.
He was up to his twelfth floor and opened the door of his apartment. His roommate Mark usually wasn’t at home, that meant he was somewhere with his girlfriend. In the good nights, when they were at hers, Jim had dinner and dreamless sleep; in bad ones, he woke up in the middle of the night from moanings, coming from the next room. Once awake, Jim spent the rest of the night in a drowse, frustrated, annoyed, and slightly horny. His days and nights, good and bad, smudged into one shapeless and timeless blur, and he saw neither beginning nor the end to it.
One day, though, Jim caught Pam off guard when he moved to the exit at her station with her.
‘My nephew has a birthday at the weekend, so…’ he shrugged when he met her questioning look. It was the truth, and it happened that the biggest toy store he knew about was nearby the station she transferred to her bus. Pam could ask him if there weren’t enough shops in his neighbor, but instead, she grinned.
‘That’s awesome! Do you know what you want to gift him?’
‘No, I don’t,’ he confessed. ‘I don’t know what four years old likes nowadays. What did you like to do when you were four?’
‘Well,’ Pam said, slightly embarrassed, ‘I liked to seek for eggs in our chicken coop.’
She was from a small village, two hours away from the city. She still felt uncomfortable that her origin made her look rustic, less valued in the eyes of the city dwellers like Jim. And as before, he did his best to help her get rid of these feelings.
‘Wait a minute,’ Jim said with mocking confusion. ‘I’ve always thought that eggs magically appeared in grocery stores already in packages by six or ten.’
‘You are kidding, right?’ she looked at him incredulously, trying her best to keep a straight face. ‘Be honest. Have you ever seen a hen alive?’
‘Of course, I have,’ Jim feignedly offended. ‘I watched plenty of National Geographic when I was younger.’
She giggled, and he grinned, and everything was right again. They transferred to another metro line, talking about childhood memories and suggesting gift ideas. And Jim had never been so grateful to crowds and loud noises and sharp train’s moving — to all outer forces that brought Pam to him. Until he found his courage (or until some miracle occurred), these occasions were the only things he could count on.
The train went to surface, and Pam closed her eyes when the sun rays lit her face; Jim admired quietly how the sunset changed her features, added color to her cheeks, and painted her curls red. She reminded him of some Preraphaelite painting he had seen once; later that evening, he spent half an hour looking that painting up. He thought that one day when things were finally right between them, he would tell her about this evening, and the painting, and the sun in her hair. But this day hadn’t come yet.
When she opened her eyes, he pretended that he was reading a flyer above her head.
The toy store was even bigger than Jim remembered, and he was thrilled when Pam suggested her help with choosing the gift. They were walking through aisles, looking at the toys and giggling occasionally. Jim got distracted with radio-controlled helicopters (he hesitated, trying to decide if he could buy one for himself and why this purchase was actually a fantastic idea). When he finally turned around, Pam was nowhere to find. He instantly forgot about toys and went to look for her.
Jim found her a few aisles away, standing before the stand with Sylvanian Families dolls; she was looking wistfully at the family of tiny squirrels, dressed in fancy clothes, and posing in front of the dollhouse with a terrace. The pained expression on her face made his heart squeeze and urged him to do something, to do anything to wipe it away. Pam noticed him and turned her head, smiling to him openly as if she wasn’t so sorrowful just a moment ago. He smiled in return, but a thought appeared unbidden: was she really glad to see him, or was it her mask she got used to wearing? He prayed for the former.
‘Found something interesting?’
He would like to ask her about her sudden sadness, would like to use that one hundred sixty-fifth question, but he wasn’t sure what it could bring — more sorrows to her or a tad understanding of her feelings to him. Perhaps, he wasn’t ready to take such a risk.
‘Nah,’ she shook her head. Perhaps, she also wasn’t ready to share all her secrets with him. It was understandable but still stung a little.
They ended up buying a giant egg, filled with the little toy dinosaurs — the favorite among children from three to eight, as a shop assistant had assured them. Jim held the gift carefully with both hands, and she couldn’t stop giggling and calling him ‘mother hen.’ He made a face to her, but in fact, he was basking in the warmth of her sincere joy.
Jim saw her off the bus to her home. They exchanged their ‘see you tomorrow’ and smiles, and waves goodbye. Jim stood at the bus station, watching as she came inside the vehicle, paid for a ticket, and sat near the window; then she turned to him and waved once more, giving him that smile that he loved so much.
The bus drove away, leaving Jim to look at the road traffic but seeing only her last smile.
If he had ever been about to get over Pam, apparently he had been doing it all wrong.