A Stray Thought

Like most people I work two jobs. Tuesday and Thursday I get on a bus, which takes me to a subway, which in turn drops me off to take a taxi. I eventually get to work with a stop for lunch about an hour to an hour and a half after I leave home. I would complain, but it only costs me about five dollars round trip if my timing is good.

I get to work and then five hours later I turn around go back the way I came, with another stop for lunch, and get home about an hour to an hour and a half. It’s not a bad job, it’s not a bad life. I get some stipend for the traveling, which is why it only costs me about five dollars a day. I like my work and I don’t mind the commute. It gives me time to think, unwind, relax, or watch people as they get on and off the subway and bus.

Just last week I was on the subway, watching people, and realized that the couple next to me were leaning up against the window and playing some sort of “What Do You See?” game. I looked over my shoulder to see what they were looking at. It was a wooden wall. To be more exact it was the wall across the three lanes of tracks between us and the other side of the subway platform. I looked at it at first thinking they were rather daft. I stood up and walked down a ways and stopped by another window. The wooden paneling of the wall was about as interesting as drying paint on a hot day, but there wasn’t anything else to look at.

I looked around for a moment because the subway car hadn’t started moving again. I looked down the cars to see if I could figure out what was going on. In the next car I saw a couple of elderly people, being helped, who had tripped or had some sort of problem getting into the subway. It was in hand. There were a couple of people in uniforms on the scene and I turned back to look at the wooden paneling across the subway.

I noticed this time that most of the lights were flickering. It was rather annoying the way they would randomly flick on and then off a second or a dozen later. The only light that wasn’t flickering on and off was over one of the lone benches that were about as interesting as the wall behind them. However, what was on that bench was of more interest.

The only person on the entire platform across the subway was a woman. She was sitting, her hair pulled back, checking her make-up. She wasn’t unattractive, she wasn’t plain. She had that kind of beauty, that when you hold it, seems like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. From across the tracks, she looked about as normal as a woman can who has that kind of beauty.

I looked again to see if the elderly couple had been helped, they had, and then looked back to see if the woman was still there. Now a subway train was blocking my view and to top it off, my train started to move. I didn’t think anything of it, and pretty much forgot about the woman.

The next week I came home the same way. I always came home the same way. This time I was over burdened by my attempts to prepare for a truly cold day. It seemed that those who schedule the subway cars temperature control had the same idea, for I was sweating like ice water in a furnace before it evaporates. I got off that subway just for a few minutes to cool off and see if I could stall off the smell of the sweat that was sure to be pouring off me. The air was fantastic, it was the middle of fall in a colder climate. I cooled fast and sat down to wait for the next subway to come my way.

In the mean time I started to play “What Do You See?” all by myself. I saw a bunch of uninteresting things all about me, and across the tracks was some wood paneling and a row of benches that were meticulously planned to be a certain distance apart as if none of them liked each other, but they all wanted to be employed. While I wondered what it would be like to be a bench who hated its neighbor, I was distracted by flickering lights. They were far too annoying to not notice and I scowled at them just for spite. I scowled at each in turn, ’til I got to one that was constant. I waited with a half scowl on my face to see what it was going to do. Below that light there was a woman. The only woman on the platform. Her hair was tied back and she was checking her make-up. ]

There was a bell for the next train, which startled us both, and she jerked her head up to see if subway was coming. The bell announced that a train headed in another direction, behind me on another track, was coming in and everyone should stand behind the line for safety.

We both settled back onto our benches. She resumed her make-up and I resumed my speculations. I couldn’t believe that there was that much trouble with those paints on her face, but she kept at it for quite a long time. I watched her inspecting herself until the next subway came in. As it happened, two subways came in at the same time. One was where I was going on my side of the tracks, and one was on her side. I decided I was cooled off enough and ready to head home, and before I got there I had completely forgotten about the woman and the subway stop.

Another week went by, I only did this twice a week, so it was easy for a week to go by. I was on the subway again, and this time the subway stopped at the stop with the wooden paneling and the orderly benches below the mischievous lights. I had an instant thought and I jumped off the subway just as the doors were about to close. I startled a few people who were ready for me to barrel through them, but no one the worse for wear.

I sat myself down on a bench and looked around to find that one light that wasn’t flickering. I found it, and the nearly permanent occupant. She was there again, hair pulled back, checking her face. She was still beautiful in that odd way. I could tell I was looking at her without staring, but it was a tough game to play and every so often I had to look away just to keep myself in check.

I watched her this time while more than three trains passed each of us. She looked up each time a train went by and afterward sat with her head bowed for a minute or two before she started up with her grooming.

I’d had enough speculating by this time and had to figure out what she was waiting for. Too many thoughts of lost loves, broken romances, lovers separated by events of the world, and every other thing went through my head. Each and every one of them worse than the last, and all belonging in a romance novel of some sort.

It took me a few minutes to find the way from my platform to hers, but I made it over there without too many minutes slipping away. As fast as I had managed it, I was too late. When I found the bench with the only light not flickering, she was gone. I wasn’t too hard on myself, I do enjoy a good mystery and intrigue, but I nearly cursed all the same for the feel of the thing.

I went on my way and a few more weeks went by, I checked the station each week to no avail. I thought I saw her once or twice, but couldn’t have been sure. Whatever it was, the weather, politics and religion, or just the strange nature of people to move in herds, but the station started to get more and more lively during the colder months. I wasn’t able to get the platform to myself again until spring was threatening to poke it’s head out and look around. About that time I had become accustomed to sitting at the station and having a cup of coffee to get a break from standing or sitting amongst fifty other people desperately trying to get home and away from the daily grind of life. This cool evening was much like the one I had had in the fall where the weather pulled a trick on everyone and decided to be warm and comfortable.

I jumped off the subway car and sat myself down to breath from the fresh cool air that was sweeping in from along the tracks and got myself a cold cup of tea. It was fantastic. If I hadn’t had to carry my coat, scarf and gloves with me I would have been cool in a matter of seconds and would have loved to jump on the next subway car that stopped in front of me.

Just as this thought crossed my mind I looked out again across the tracks as I become wont to do and saw, below that same light, that same woman. This time she wasn’t holding up her pocket mirror inspecting her make-up and hair, but she was looking over in my direction. I didn’t know exactly what to do. I nodded and went back to my tea.

Since my brain is one that takes whatever it can find and starts to make wild assumptions, I started to sweat once again. I didn’t know how many times she had seen me, or why she was looking over in my direction, but she had definitely seen me look at her. I thought about twenty or thirty different reasons for it, and decided that coincidence would let me sleep easiest that night.

I had made up my mind and the bell for the next subway rang. I went to get up and ready to board. As I turned to grab my winter gear I looked right into the eyes of a woman with that kind of beauty that you can’t describe, but can’t forget. She looked at me and smiled. I stood there trying to think of something to say. I must have had about every word I could think cross my face, for that wonderful woman raised a hand to her lips and covered a small laugh and a smile. I blushed myself and we sat down next to each other.

Over the next few minutes I tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to mind. Just when I had the perfect opening line the subway car pulled up, stopped, and dropped off more people than I thought the thing could hold. There was so much noise it was impossible to get a clear thought out let alone a word.

We sat looking at each other, her smile never changing, until everyone had gone and the place was as quiet as Serengeti steppe after a violent storm. I had lost whatever it was I was going to say. She didn’t seem to mind. I made up my mind. I stood up, gathered all of my over planning for the day, and offered her my hand. She stood up, as graceful as an angel, and accepted it.

I didn’t ever ask what brought her to that platform until years later. When I got up the nerve, and got out of the romance of that time, I asked her. She smiled again like she did when I first saw her up close, and told me. Everyday she had gone down to that platform to wait for someone. He had shown up the very first time she went down there. At the same time she had noticed a stranger across the tracks. He was staring idly out of the window, seeming to play one of those “What Do You See?” games all by himself, and he had such an interesting look on his face, she had decided that she had to find out what he had seen.



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