Ghosts on the subway

by moniguzman on February 19, 2014

I didn’t look directly at the two women in the airport tram car with me. They were both blond, I guessed mother and daughter. They laughed at something on the older woman’s phone. If I hadn’t been there, I thought, they’d have laughed louder.

Minutes earlier, when I’d stepped into the car and sat down, I’d caught myself staring at its doorframe. Off-white, old, smears of urban use. It was hardly worth a look. But the tram had been full then, and my eyes had done what all eyes do in closed, transitory public spaces — avoid making contact. The car was too small for the subway ads and posters that draw our exiled gazes. So the doorframe it was.

Outside, dark tunnel walls opened up to New Jersey and then the outskirts of New York. Parking lots. Snowy roofs. Lampposts over pools of yellow light. I looked at my reflection, though not directly — even that seemed inappropriate — and noticed my fussy hair, remembered I’d not put on makeup. I told myself to smile.

People look so sad on buses and subways, but it’s just our idle faces. The ones we wear when no one is around to see them. The ones that say, we’re not really here. We’re just passing through.

On a crowded subway to New York’s Penn Station a young woman with gorgeous long hair stepped in and stood by the door. We played that game: I pretended not to look at her but studied her hair in my periphery; she pretended not to look at me but noticed we’re probably the same age, lingered a bit on my glasses.

A couple stops later, she was gone. A few stops after that, so was I.

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