The R pulled into Union.
I followed a tall woman dressed in black onto the car. I stood at the front and scanned the passengers.
To my left, two empty seats and a woman on whose head a colorful scarf sat. It had many shades but seemed red as a whole. She didn’t seem that old. She didn’t seem abnormal, but I didn’t look that long.
At first she wasn’t the one that interested me anyway.
I was curious about the tall woman dressed in black. She had found a spot right in front of the train door. As the train moved through the tunnel she constantly adjusted her dress. Never moving it in any direction just seeming to pull and settle the fabric against her skin as if she would rather be naked.
She wore sandals scuffed and old and showed slanting wear on the heels. She had long skinny feet blistered and dry. She never broke eye contact with herself in the door window. Pulling and pushing at her clothes.
I knew she would be getting off the train at Atlantic. Somehow knew she was short for this train and Manhattan would not be where her day was heading. I wanted to know why Atlantic. Why the concern. I pictured adultery, misguided sexual adventure, an answered craigslist ad, prostitution, or maybe she just wanted to go to Target.
The train stopped and as I thought she would the tall woman in black got off. I took one of the seats next to the woman in the scarf. The one against the wall giving us the middle seat as a buffer certain no one would sit next to her or me.
As I sat down I got a better look at her face. In her nose, that hooked over her upper lip, was a gold ring. Her eyes were black and weepy. Weepy in a way that didn’t suggest tears. Weepy like thick. Weepy like something medically waswrong. Under that red looking scarf, puffed black hair, immediately reminding me of dolls hair. Dolls hair cut by the hateful actions of an older sister to her younger sibling’s property.
At first I thought she might be going to the airport. She had two bags that together looked to weigh the same as she. They were checkered, tiny white, blue and grey boxes covered them. They were made of a nylon material like a tarp.
My leg brushed one and she moved it away from me. Like my skin had contaminated it. I didn’t take it personally. The bag had felt lighter then it looked.
I ignored her. Like everyone in New York ignores each other, by paying peripheral attention to the ones that make us nervous.
I did so. I could feel her presence. I could sense she didn’t Like me sitting here. As if me here, invaded her space.
As if planned she started twitching just as the train reached the Whitehall stop.
By Cortlandt she began to moan and call out.
At city hall she started speaking again in nonsensical sentences.
I have heard tongues spoke before. At a church in Clarksville Tennessee off Fort Campbell. I was with my buddy. I liked going to church with him. It wasn’t for the God. It was more for the experience. Having a buddy, doing something, going somewhere.
I’d get drunk with the bench dwellers outside the barracks for the same reason.
I don’t know if she is speaking in tongues or even having a religious experience on the uptown bound R train.
I am now afraid to look at her.
I wonder how bad it would be if I did get her attention.
A thought hit me that maybe this was the way she kept people away from her stuff. Or maybe I, now sitting only one seat away from her, was driving her into this frenzy.
There was a Grey Hound bus deep in the remote woods of Canada. A man was eaten by his seat mate. Chopped into little pieces with a hunting knife and snacked on while the rest of the bus’ passengers watched from outside.
I didn’t think that was going to happen here at the cusp of Canal Street. But I imagined her arm jutting out suddenly armed with a large hunting knife.
I would catch it, I thought, catch her wrist in my hand and bend it back making her drop the blade. She would be harmless then. My strong grip and the torque of joints that don’t bend that way keeping her motionless.
I wondered if I would really be able to stop it if it came to it. Or would I just simply look down and see the blade imbedded deep within my chest. A growing red flower spreading. A sense of suffocating. Dark edges gripping the corners of my eyes. Before nothing.
I saw it both ways. And preferred to ninja my way through the situation if it happened.
Prince came. And she yelled at a man standing to close to her. It wasn’t a yell filled with a language people speak but sounds glued together in a structure much like a sentence.
The man shoved deeper into the train and I realized I was able to meet the eyes of the people sitting in the three seats across from me.
They pitied me.
Two Latin woman and a skinny old Asian man. It was more the older Latin woman on whose face I saw pity. The other two pretended to ignore me when they saw I saw they were looking at me like I pretended to ignore them even after the eye contact. That was the difference, the woman next to me wasn’t ignoring anyone. She engaged with everyone. She was a social butterfly interacting with everyone that came near her.
I could not picture this woman with doll hair and two gigantic bags having a real home to call her own. The thought struck me as I wondered if the Asian man was Japanese or Japanese American. Where did she come from? Where did she go? Does she live permanently in the NYC subway system? Bathing in the time square restroom. Switching trains occasional for a change of scenery?
I was not being assaulted by a smell. Or a sense of dirty skin, or the nausea of disease.
At West 8th another thought assaulted me, this was her home and she was welcoming us all in her own special little way.
By 14th street she was calm head on her chest breathing softly and I got off the train.
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