Evening ride uptown and I find myself clogged between cold bodies like cattle. In the silence of the cart, the squeaks from the jerking train make me find the humor in it all.
Earlier that day, around late afternoon, I waited on a platform, hands tucked into pockets, ready to head up to Manhattan. That’s where I’d meet a young man that I’ll dub H for reasons of privacy. H was that type of guy to give someone that “Oh, please… please… don’t talk to me” face. He was that guy out roaming the platform with his laptop blasting Hip-Hop music, taking hits from his vaporizer and starting chit-chat with whoever crossed his line of sight.
People maneuvered themselves around him like an aisle spill, and I found myself surprisingly uplifted by his liveliness. It wasn’t long before I too was drawn into conversation with him. Aboard the train, as we both rode toward city lights, he opened himself to me without embarrassment, without any self-consciousness. He opened up about his history – how at 20 years of age he got nabbed for selling dope, and how seven years later he found himself looking for change. In that moment I found envy within myself, envy at the appreciation he had for breathing out in the February winter air.
He went on sharing with me his passion for art – how he’d sold portraits and drawings to fellow inmates, and how now, after coming out, he had sold enough of his work to afford the basic laptop he carried around like a small gem. He went on about his addiction to cigarettes and how he changed to smoking from a vaporizer – a habit that he explained to me with the tongue of a scientist – explaining the ingredients that made it a healthier habit.
Within the movement of his words my eyes couldn’t help but wander at the gazing eyes around our conversation, eyes I knew carried the weight of instant judgment about the character developing before me, a character who without fear pulled me into not only his past, but into his desires and aspirations – into the visions of his future.
In that hour, his care-free behavior and gratitude for the simplest of freedoms broke through the imaginary cage so often set by society. At one moment, a lady had given him a stare, and he asked if his music had been disturbing her. After she replied “no”, he turned to me and asked what I preferred to listen to – and then he told me something that would stick in the back of my mind through the rest of the night. He said to me that when he came across something moving, he enjoyed sharing it with others. It was then that he recommended me a book to read.
“Go ahead, open it up to any page, it’s that good,” he said. “I’m telling you man, you got to read this book, it’ll change your life.”
Before our departures, I recommended a book onto him, one that had been previously recommended onto me. And within that small discussion there was a bond felt, an awkward feeling, a link not just between strangers, but of person.
On that late evening ride toward 125 Street, where people squeezed like packaged meat inside the steel walls of public transit – I gazed at the space around me, the faces of stern thoughts, the eyes of people swimming deep inside a personal world guarded through intentional silence. Through the passing stops I attempted in my mind to free myself of this imaginary encasing, to set a spark in dark silence – and I thought of the young man I had met prior, and wished his character could have walked inside this moment. For within the crammed cart of the subway, I awoke to the reality of separation which has grown between people, how society did not feel much of a society, and how public transportation did not feel so public.
~ Steph R.