Two Lifetimes

The woman sits on the orange tiled floor, legs crossed pretzel-style before her. She wears a man’s suit jacket, shoulder pads hanging from her skeletal shoulders no differently than they would off a hanger. Her entire frame invokes a wire—angular, thin, fixed in purpose and unyielding in design.

The woman sits on the orange tiled floor, at the base of the stairs, legs crossed pretzel-style before her. I see her as the world above is swallowed, the first object visible in the fluorescence below. For a moment, she is the only object visible in the fluorescence below. The view above obstructed by the tunnel face suddenly breaks to reveal a sullen mass, awash in light, alone in a sea of orange.

The woman sits on the orange tiled floor, at the base of the stairs, legs crossed pretzel-style before her, and she speaks. “Change?” she asks, “I’m trying to get to Daly City.” Her mouth works in that way of people with too many gums and not enough teeth. Her hair is matted, black with coils of gray. The texture speaks to continents lost and impossibly far away. The gray speaks to decades.

The woman sits on the orange tiled floor, at the base of the stairs, legs crossed pretzel-style before her. She is the first object visible in the fluorescence below. She faces the tunnel entrance. She is blocking the path to the platform. To ignore her is to walk on top of her. There is no choice but to meet her stare, acknowledge her presence, move. Her eyes are sharp, tracking every passenger’s descent. She does not afford us the courtesy of shame, of bowed head or diverted gaze. She holds each pair of eyes, chooses when to let go. Her irises are black and ringed in milky brown. The whites are yellow.

“I’m sorry,” I stammer, fumbling for change I know is not there, guilty. “I don’t have anything.”

“That’s okay,” she says, not unkindly. She looks me top to bottom, from the braids piled atop my head to my long legs, sun kissed brown and bare. I do the same. There are several shirts layered beneath her suit jacket. Her feet are bare. “I like your shorts,” she says suddenly, and then, miraculously, a smile—gap toothed and sincere.

I laugh, startled. Delighted. “Thank you!”

“I used to wear shorts like that,” she says, but she is no longer speaking to me. Her eyes are wistful, a lifetime away. She is looking at me but seeing the woman she once was. I am looking at her and trying to see that woman too. There are glimpses—in the tilt of her chin, her defiant gaze, the unexpected smile.

I see you, I think. 

I want to give her something, show her that I seeI see. I return the smile—toothy and earnest, an offering from one lifetime to another. But the woman has returned her attention to the tunnel entrance, her gaze to the stairs. The suit jacket hangs from her skeletal shoulders no differently than it would off a hanger. Her back is straight. Her entire frame invokes a wire—angular, thin, fixed in purpose and unyielding in design. There is a loss I cannot name. I board the train.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s