I hear as I vault two steps at a time barely avoid careening into an elderly woman in a fluffy winter coat shuffling towards the staircase. Panting I shove an arm through the set of double doors as they begin to shut. They bounce back and I jump onto the train as the monotone announcer’s voice commands, “stand clear of the doors” and in quick succession, “doors closing” once again. I turn right and make my way towards the end of the car where two rows of hard plastic seats face each other I aim for the seat at the end, scanning the faded navy blue felt coverings to avoid any undesirable foreign substances.
My seat looks clean as I could’ve hoped for on the Red Line. I sit down and look at the person sitting across from me. He is tall, long torso, with a patchy scruffy blonde beard. He has plump cheeks and his eyes are filled with uncertainty, he almost looks a little pathetic, despite his size. We briefly catch each other’s eye as I look towards the middle of the car to see who else I’m sharing my ride downtown with. I wonder what he thinks of me.
The train lurches forward as we begin our ride south.
There are about 20 or so other folks in my car, none talking to each other. Everyone is either asleep, has headphones in or is glued to their phone. Almost instinctively I reach for my phone, pull it out and begin trying to figure out what word I can possibly come up with that has one vowel, an X and a host of other hard to work with letters. I’m not used to losing at Words with Friends but am getting my ass handed to me by a friend who I’ve just begun playing with. As I rack my tiny brain for possibilities I realize the tall man across from has his eyes on me. I don’t dare look up for fear of interrupting the world he is creating for me inside his head.
“Next stop Addison”
As he devours me with his eyes he builds a reality for me. He uses my clothes, my tardiness to the train, my being out of breath and mannerisms I barely notice: slightly slouched, adjusting my clothing and touching my face. I wonder who I am to this man, who am I in this world he is creating. Is my life in shambles? Am I sloppy, late to everything and constantly missing out? Am I careless, zoned out and out of touch; jaded by the monotony of the daily grind? Am I a villain that he is chasing down to stop from destroying the world?
“Addison” the monotone voice announces as we come to a slow stop.
I’ve give skinny patchy beard man plenty of time to defeat me if I am a villain and can’t hold back any long, I look up and our eyes meet immediately. It takes him a moment to realize I’m actually looking back. He hasn’t been looking at me sitting there but at the me he’s created in my own little world. Terrified at being caught he looks away. I can tell he is angry I caught him, angry that I ruined me for him. I grin to myself, knowing he wouldn’t dare bring me back into his gaze again.
I take a perverse pleasure in catching him at his daydreaming. I do the same to others, build worlds for them as we stand waiting for the train or walk home from work together, just a few strides apart. It’s kind of weird that I don’t just talk to people instead of creepily creating separate worlds and scenarios for them to live in while they are in my sight.