in which a wall is dismantled by colour and crinkles

This morning on the subway I sit by myself in a forward facing seat.  A few stops later a man somewhere in his sixties, gets on and sits directly in front of me in an aisle facing seat.  He is wearing a rainbow: orange windbreaker pants over jeans, yellow jacket, red gloves, black toque over grey hair – more colours poking out amongst his layers of shirts.  He’s wearing tan runners with no laces.

He leans back and stretches his legs out in front of him as if to relish “taking a load off,” but he’s not relaxed; he fidgets.  I wait for the unwashed smell of “homeless” but it doesn’t come – and I see that his clothes are clean – as are his hair and beard.  Now and then he makes a gesture, jabbing at the air with his flat hand horizontal in steps down, as if pointing out the levels of something; his mouth moving subtly, carrying out some inner conversation.

Now and then he looks at my black tights-covered knee sticking out the top of my boot on the leg crossed over the other.  As many men would – the knee/boot combination is a popular one, I think.  Given his potential mental illness, however, I feel vulnerable about it and resist moving my leg out of his line of sight.

Some riders get on at the next stop and he moves his own legs back in and sits a little straighter to let them pass, still fidgeting, still looking around at people with a furtiveness – sort of looking without looking.  I study his face when he looks ahead, his line of sight perpendicular to mine.  He’s fit, vital and handsome, with eyes that crinkle a little at the corners.  I’ve liked those crinkles that some men get ever since I was a child, probably because they indicate good-naturedness – when I was small I could read kindness into those kinds of eyes.  Like now – those eyes compel me to like him. 

His beard comes down off his chin in a gentle triangle, puffy and shimmery grey with white streaks; growing unruly from his neck beneath his shirt, but otherwise cared for.  Perhaps it was admired in the mirror that morning.  No doubt, if I met this man at a party I’d find him attractive.

Nevertheless I’m still a little uncomfortable by his jerky movements, haphazard dress and close proximity as he glances at my leg.  Like most people, I’m conditioned to try and ignore people who seem to exist on the fringes in the hopes they won’t acknowledge me and threaten my personal safety – even if it’s just my dignity I’m trying to keep safe.  But I don’t want this wall, and close the book and set it in my lap.  The train has stopped at Bloor Station, and just before the doors close again the man stands and walks out onto the platform. 

Feeling a little disappointed, I watch him walk away, waving to the odd stranger with a point and wave that suggests they are old friends.  Like me, the strangers work hard to not acknowledge him.  But I'm thinking that those strangers might be to him, like he is to me – something like friends, who find their way into your life for the purpose of adding colour to it. 

As the train starts to pull away, I admire the colours of his clothing, getting the sense that a good bit of beauty had been sucked out with him, like a fine mist of light particles, when he exited the car.


  1. Reply
    Jenn Meyskens January 11, 2011

    beautiful post!:) I love how those brief moments challenge our thinking!

  2. Reply
    Poetikat January 11, 2011

    We are all guilty of those feelings I think, but at least you have opened it up for us to take a peek and partake of the rainbow. Thanks.

  3. Reply
    Selma January 11, 2011

    A magical encounter. I am also keen on crinkles at the eyes. They do indicate a good nature, I suspect. I enjoyed this observation very much.

  4. Reply
    Jennifer January 11, 2011

    Thank you Jenn, and I love to have my thinking challenged too. We all should have our thinking challenged once in awhile. Glad you visited!

  5. Reply
    Jennifer January 11, 2011

    Thank you Kat. Maybe we shouldn’t feel guilty for these kinds of feelings, but we should all partake of the rainbow! :0)

  6. Reply
    Jennifer January 11, 2011

    Selma, the crinkles, today, changed everything. xo

  7. Reply
    Sherrill January 12, 2011

    I always take the time to TRY and look someone like him, in the eye and smile. I’m sure it’s a rarity in their lives.
    Good one Jenn!

  8. Reply
    Jennifer January 12, 2011

    I do too Sherrill – I’ve always thought it so tragic that we try to make people on the fringes of society invisible. What must it be like to be invisible? Thanks pal. xo

  9. Reply
    reluctant blogger January 12, 2011

    I always observe the quirky people who exist on the fringes. Sometimes, if I am in one of my “high” modes I will smile at them and interact but mostly I just watch because I am fearful of what I might be drawn into. I always wonder about their stories. Because I know that given a few different circumstances that could have been me (still could be) – I am a quirky, solitary, non-conforming type who drops out of society when I have a problem. So it’s only luck really that has kept me in the loop (well, luck and my educational and social background probably)
    Crinkles – yes, they are a sign of a good nature I think and a kindly disposition.

  10. Reply
    Jennifer January 13, 2011

    Me too RB – I suppose I feel some sort of kinship too.

  11. Reply
    FutureUrban January 14, 2011

    Lovely, lovely post. I use public transport all the time and you frequently get different people like this who you ‘connect’ with. It isn’t always acknowledged, but you both still know you’ve made that connection.

  12. Reply
    Jennifer January 14, 2011

    Thank you Alex. And you hit the nail on the head – it’s about that wonderful mystery of finding a connection with a stranger. I’ll never get tired of considering why that connection has occured.

  13. Reply
    Little hat January 20, 2011

    I love it when you write these detailed observation pieces. I don’t tire of them cos they’re so true.
    My local community has always been a hub for the homeless, the aborigines and a large number of boarding house residents. Many people think of West End as scary. My son was taking a teacher friend on a tour of the local flood sites two days ago. She’d never been in this part of town and is a little protected. As they were walking along the shopping strip one of our local characters walked up to her and said ‘you’re very pretty’. She freaked. Nick laughed and suggested she take it as a compliment.
    I’m working on my wrinkles. What about bags under the eyes? How do they rate?

  14. Reply
    Jennifer January 21, 2011

    I like that my little readership loves these best. I’m not sure why they/you do, but I sure love having you along with me.
    I love Nick’s reaction to the ‘freaking’ – what must it be like to always cause ‘freaking’ reactions (i.e. fear) in others?
    Oh sure wrinkles, crinkles, bags under the eyes – it’s all evidence of living, and therefore beautiful! (though maybe that living could entail better and/or longer sleep?)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *