Thought this one up on the treadmill. See, running’s good for something.
What was the difference, she wondered, between the man in the black suit with the brown suitcase, and the man with the brown suit and the black suitcase? They paid each other no mind, made no attempt to acknowledge their oppositeness. Was it secretly killing them, she thought, to know what the other one was thinking?
She watched the woman with the stroller push and tug on the handle bars to gently keep the baby in motion, within the motion of the train. The baby slept and paid no attention to the woman holding onto the bar next to her, just waiting for one of the stroller wheels to inch over her foot so she could unleash a look of pure contempt on her mother. But the wheels kept their distance and the woman was distracted by a headline on a newspaper the man in the brown suit was reading.
An old man with plastic bags stuffed into his coat pockets sat next to her. He smelled like Chinatown on a Saturday morning. He smiled at the sleeping baby in the stroller.
The train rolled to a stop and in one choreographed motion everyone’s heads returned to their upright position to see who was getting off at this stop. Whose way they needed to get out of. Who would give up a seat. How the deck would be reshuffled at this stop. From her seat on the far right, the side that passes the river on the way into the city in the mornings, she waiting to see what faces would step into the car next.
For weeks it seems now she had been seeing familiar faces in strangers. She had diagnosed herself as having some sort of interloper’s disease, and reasoned away the familiar faces as a coping mechanism. She saw old coworkers in new clothes and old friends in new friends’ hand gestures and mannerisms. It was a paranoia she couldn’t shake, so she gave up trying and instead sought out the gazes of strangers to see who she could see.
This time an old high school band mate stepped onto the car. He had grown up significantly. But his chin and hairline were the same. That was what always made him distinguishable from underneath a helmet. Had he wondered in a profession that required a suit and tie every day, she imagined, she would have liked to still know him.
She saw an old crush, and a three-year-old version of her cousin. A college classmate that she had shared a lot of the same courses with barely made it through the train doors in time.
The old man sitting next to her had gotten off and was replaced by a woman who attended the same church as she did. She wondered where the woman’s husband was, with his blue flannel pants and slicked back hair. The middle-aged woman had on a new pair of earrings, and apparently had a new hairdresser, a younger one, no doubt. She waited for the woman to turn and acknowledge her in a thick Polish accent and greasy smile, but the woman didn’t. Instead she pulled out a nail file and began evening her thumb nail, with the while nail flakes descending on her purse.
The next stop, she readied herself to get off the train. She stood before the car creaked to a halt and the middle-aged woman did nothing to give way.
“Excuse me,” she said.
The middle-aged woman looked up from her nail filing and sashayed her hips to the right to make room, and went back to her filing. Not even moving over to the window seat.
She left the car and walked out in the station and without stopping made it onto the escalator. She stood to the right and let the other faces pass her. Some of them she was beginning to recognize, since she kept to the same schedule every day. She gave them silent names, wondered if anyone ever recognized her from the day before on the train. Or ever gave her a silent name.
She figured, with her luck, only the man with the plastic bags in his pockets would remember.