I'm staying at Mia's most of this week. I get a ride downtown with her lovely pal Carol, and am riding the subway back from work. All I can say is, I'm glad my city has a subway, but I don't miss riding on it everyday. Not one bit.
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.
I came across this video which has scenes I can identify with my every day. These scenes ARE my every day – they're of Toronto, the city I write about all the time.
And it's funny because I could link this song's theme to a conversation I had only just last night about my experience in having been here five years now; about choosing a city and not finding a home; about not giving up on the city but quitting looking for the home.
I might be more enthusiastic about finding this video treatment of this particular song. But I have laryngitis today. I don't even know how to deal with this song when I have laryngitis.
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.