I arrive at my usual spot on the subway platform at Union Station this morning at the same time as a woman and man who are having a good natured argument about where along the platform they should board. She wins.
We get on the car and she sits in the one available seat near me and he stands in front of her. I don’t really notice them again until a few stops later when I see her stroking the top of his hand which is holding on to the rail beside him, and she’s looking up at him, issuing a private communiqué by way of a smile that is content and adoring. It must have also said “bye honey, have a good day” because without a word he then moves across the car to the door and waits there, looking out, until we arrive at Dundas Station.
She has gone back to her Metro Times, but as the train screeches into the station, she looks up to watch him walk off the train. As he moves amongst the people on the platform, she leans around other passengers to keep him in her sight, as if wanting to capture him in his aloneness; that bit of time – not hers – when he has separated from their coupledom and morphed into an autonomous worker walking about the city with thousands of others on a Monday morning. It’s like she’s keen to see him outside of her, from a different perspective, perhaps imagining him a stranger.
It’s an interminable ride. A rainy day slows down commuting everywhere. Don’t ask me why the subway slows down too; it’s as if the underground is in symphony with the city's surface. Like they're locked in a dance, the subway keeping time with its partner in the world above it.
A few stops from the end of my ride, I look up from my book, feeling mildly annoyed, sensing I’d been on that train far too long. I notice a lady a little way down from me writing in a notebook. She looks to be in her early forties, with a long, groovy(ish) green skirt, taupe hose, navy walking shoes and a small square of lace pinned to the top of her head.
I always notice fellow writers with interest, wondering what sort of writing is going on. Is she journaling? Has she come to a fabulous kernel of an idea sitting there? What kind of story is unfolding in her mind? Is it fiction? Poetry? Memoir? Is she taking a writing class, perhaps like the ones I teach? Or maybe she's a reporter for a small community paper…
But then I notice she’s writing about me. Or seems to be anyway, as she keeps looking up at me then back down at her notebook to add further scribbles. Maybe I’m just her visual touch point, where her eyes wander to as she pauses to think. But I’m not in her obvious line of sight, and when she catches me watching her watching me, she diverts her eyes to the panel of ads above my head for a moment, then glazing over me again before getting on with her writing.
I’m mildly amused at the possibility that the tables have been turned on me, and I wonder what it is this writer finds in me to write about. It has never occurred to me that my public demeanour might be the least bit interesting, but then I imagine the people I find profoundly interesting wouldn’t see themselves as interesting either, like that husband and wife I’d seen earlier going about, what was to them, a routine morning commute.
If she was reading something in my face, I hope it wasn’t tragedy. I’d hate that.
This morning I’m watching a young guy sketch people on the subway. I’m an observer of an observer. I’m captivated by his surreptitious search for detail and the subsequent concentration in getting what he sees onto the page of his sketchbook.
I get to imagining what the young man’s eyes are seeing in the short amount of time he has to create the images. Line? Space? Plane? Perspective? Or is he, like I so often am, imagining what lies beneath the surface – what is it about that changing furrow in a brow, that curl of a lip, what thoughts are washing over that face looking at itself in a window’s reflection?
The artist is young enough that I can guess he is still at the point of the former, working to strengthen his skill before attempting to convey the layers of his subjects’ humanity into his drawings. But then I also expect that the more an artist becomes accustomed to seeing, the more evident those layers become. So what is going on under those lines and planes must be evident at some level of his consciousness.
As I watch him, aspects of tunnel walls and station platforms move in shifting formations in the window behind him, and people move in and out of his space with that air of muted resignation that morning commuters always have. What I see is a young man in a bubble; a bubble in the middle of a busy transit system, in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of a big city, amongst thousands of people, most of whom are working very hard with various means to ignore and avoid the unpleasantness of experiencing each other. And I feel grateful to have encountered this one person who is striving to do the opposite – to see them.
And for that, the young man seeing is beautiful thing number 27 of 101.
I saw this little girl, about seven, on the subway. Her mom was sleeping beside her. She was surveying the people in the car with a calm and wit that belied her age. Some people might identify her as an “old soul.” Each time the car pulled into a station she would turn and look at what was going on out on the platform, then return her attentions to her neighbours in the seats around her.
It was one of those mornings when the car was quiet – all of the passengers into themselves, nodding off, sipping coffee, rolling through BlackBerry messages, reading the newspaper; a collection of sleepy-eyed commuters easing themselves into a day in silence. The absence of chatter makes a ride like this seem as if we’re suspended in time for a few moments before city life whirls itself back into your consciousness.
Behind her cute little wire rimmed glasses the girl watched people; still, hands in her lap, and a slight curl to her lip that indicated a confidence in her perspective.
I wondered where her mind was taking her; I wondered if she would always observe her world in this thoughtful way. I wondered if she might grow up to be a writer or an artist, taking inspiration from her world around her always.