Yesterday on the subway I sat down and a cheerful blonde young woman about my age sort of cocked her head in my direction. She wore a rich sapphire jewel toned well made wool pea coat and grey leggings and a pair of the palest gold sequined ballet flats. She had a pink set of headphones and a stack of papers in a Manila folder on her lap. I’m wont to half smile when I accidentally make eye contact with strangers in the city, which she returned, smiling with the apples of her cheeks but not showing teeth. Essentially the same way I smile.
I sat down and began my fuss budget ritualism on long train rides, digging in my backpack, trying to choose between 3 books and a sketchbook, finally settling on Joyce Carol Oates’ Gravedigger’s Daughter. When I pulled it through the mouth of my bag, the girl in the blue coat actually leaned forward, I could see a spark of interest and curiosity. It was plainly spelled in her features, “Oh! What is she reading?” And I smiled inside and she caught my eye and actually flushed peony pink and looked away hastily and my heart was like, “augh! It’s ok! We are the same person!” Because, it’s nerve wracking, being in this behemoth underbelly of a city I used to fantasize about from my tiny little Mississippi town with no real belief that I was adventurous or savvy enough to live near or tackle with any regularity or skill, and police officers standing at the sliding doors imperiously and impatiently on the sane train a Vietnam vet was stabbed to death earlier this month over an iPhone, and to see, definitely, that there are other people walking here, breathing my same air, with blushing curiosity about what we’re reading, or listening to, thinking about, well. It’s good knowing them that have your same kind of earnestly awkward.
But I opened my book, and she opened her Manila folder, and the chemistry notes she began correcting absorbed her, and the cops got off the train, and whole crowds shuffled in to replace them, and we didn’t make eye contact or smile again.