Transit Observations

Like the patterns my daughter is forever pointing out, the same people began to emerge as fixed features on my commute last week. The woman handing out the free newspaper in the station’s lobby. We spoke nearly every day. She was probably my age, but she was worn down by circumstances I could only guess at but wouldn’t be too far off the mark if I did. Life knocks people down in rather predictable ways, in my experience.

There was a young man dressed mainly in lack on the 4:40 train every evening. He got on somewhere before Enterprise/Bay Station. Often he was standing, wide-stance and slightly swayed back like Johnny Cash singing Folsom Prison Blues. His jacket, also black, was circa Members Only. Nearly every guy I knew in university wore jackets like that.

Frosted brown hair was combed forward from the crown to hide an expanding widow’s peak in that peculiar habit men employ when hair loss is noticeable enough that they feel the must take camouflage action. It never works. There was a practice stubble too, but whether it was a slight case of workplace passive-aggressive rebellion or an inability to grow a real man’s beard, I didn’t have any information to tell.

He got off at the stop before mine. Belvedere. Like the butler. And disappeared  with the unhappy looking Asian girl and the black woman who always sat back with her eyes closed until her stop was announced.

The school kids were long home by the time I left class and caught the train. I traveled with the work crowd. Jasper Avenue has a uniform. Black business chic. Men, in chronological age only, dressed like hip priests, and women in puffy skirts or clingy slacks wearing Victorian inspired blouses but for the excess of cleavage.

I am dowdy and maternal among them. Clearly someone’s mom, escaped from the sprawl beyond the city proper, posing among the child actors in their post-teenage visions of what a grown-up is.

On my last day, I encountered the Fat Girl. She morphed without warning into the seat across from me on my way into the city. Two-thirds of the seat vanished as her waist settled around her like a hen on a roost. The edge of her belly threatened to drop over her knees and drip to the floor and she was out of breath in a way that seemed permanent.

She cast a quick look at me that was not apologetic and maintained a stony visage clearly meant to show me that she would not be cowed by a disgusted glance.  I smiled at her. She blinked and then smiled, very tentatively, back. My smile was part instinct and part knowledge. Fat girls don’t get smiled at much if they are even acknowledged at all. I knew she didn’t get many smiles and wasn’t expecting one today – on the train of all places.

I thought about striking up a conversation but she was equipped defensively with earbuds and she was quite young though I’m not sure that would have been apparent to a casual observer as her features were swallowed by the puffy flesh that framed her face. Our eyes met again a time or two more and I smiled. I got off before her and looked back through the window. She was watching me go. Two smiles met this time, and then I headed to the stairs and the surface where the intermittent rain was now a drizzle. I hoped I was not the last smile of the day for that girl.

12 responses to “Transit Observations

  1. That is a very sweet story, and I think more people need to follow your example. There are millions of people in the same shoes as the “Fat Girl.” They may not be fat, they might be disfigured, awkward, disabled, mentally ill… “socially unacceptable” in one way or another. Nobody will meet their eye, let alone smile at them. A smile is free, a simple random act of kindness, and may be a lifeline to a lonely somebody. I hope that everybody who reads your post today will remember your words and smile at a stranger. 🙂

    • It’s hard to balance these things but I wouldn’t want anyone to feel patronized. But she looked so sad and it was plain she was not comfortable physically. And she was so young.

  2. I miss people-watching on a bus or subway. On the rare occasions I ride the subway in Boston, I like to really look at people. A response in kind to an unexpected smile in someone’s direction is a reward for making the effort.

  3. Belvedere. Like the vodka. Kudos for smiling at the fat girl. My mother and both sisters are fat girls and I can tell you that it’s not easy. Society does not like the overweight, although it seems to be all the rage here in the U.S.

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