2009-04-10 / Letters

Commuters

Dear Editor,

A Far Rockaway train darts from the Mott Avenue station and stops momentarily at Gaston. This station is elevated stories above the street and preppy townhouses that catch the ocean's breeze. The ocean tumbles breaths away beyond the sandy beach. Dozens of regulars board at Gaston trading civil smiles and hellos. Some run breathlessly up flights of dusty stairs to dart into the 7:50 train.

"This is an 'A' train to 270th Street. Stand clear of the closing doors," a conductor says. He pokes his head out from the booth skimming the robust brick platform. The train's doors slide shut behind a boarding man and woman. The man studies his watch as the train rushes him away. He pulls out a Chronicle Newspaper from his briefcase with Guyana embedded boldly in black across the top. This man usually takes a window seat. His angular face is mature and handsome. His rosy lips often collapse into genial smiles. He could be thirty and a businessman. His poise effortlessly resonates with confidence and charisma.

The woman who boarded sits across from him. They are regulars on the Far Rockaway train. They embark precisely at 7:50 unless the train is late, but they never speak. She's a hazel brown like him, but stocky and could be thirty. Her large face is plain and matron-like except for slight furrows lining her forehead. She's neither placid nor acerbic. Her clothes, equally basic, are often a loose-fitting dress or a skirt and blouse, yellow or gray.

Today, her large bag slouches on her knees stuffed with her necessities. She folds and opens her hands, inspecting her red nail polish that is slightly chipped. Her phone vibrates. She turns it over in her palm with a frown pinching her lips. The phone stops and she returns it to her bag. It vibrates seconds later. People stare and her hazel nose becomes a cherry of consciousness. She answers her cell curtly revealing a thick American voice as throaty and winded as a smoker's.

"Mr. Marsh, the letters are on your desk."

This woman must be a secretary.

At 8:10, another woman boards at Howard Beach. She is a regular too. Petite and younger, she is pretty. She gains extra height from her pumps. Her hands often clutch elegant leather bags. Her suits cling to her curves. There is no vulgarity in her sway. She usually eyeballs the man and slides into a seat nearby. Then she extracts a mirror from her bag, puckers her lips, and refreshes her rose lipstick. He smiles noting this and continues reading his Chronicle.

She observes that he always reads a Guyana Chronicle. She supposes he's Guyanese and her stomach warms with this notion. She is Guyanese too, but has been living in the US for twelve years. She likes their kinship. He adorns the train, she thinks and scribbles in her diary.

Perhaps this younger woman is a writer, someone who monitors personalities. She surveys the rushing train with her head tilted to her right and her clutched pen hovering above her opened journal.

A fat man snores like a trumpet. His cap tilts off of his fuzzy, unkempt head. His insubstantial sweatshirt exposes the pink flab peeping from beneath his spring jacket. He grasps a bulging Subway sandwich bag that trembles from his guttural breathing. The petite woman twists her mouth and scours the opposite section of the train. Across from this man is a wrinkled African American woman with half a spectacle on her nose. She adjusts this halved spectacle agitatedly each time it slips to her lip. Her left eye seems lifeless and unblinking, but she reads relentlessly from a crinkly '07 Essence magazine.

Other commuters are asleep. A man with beard and hairy hands wags his tongue. Disgusting! The petite woman whispers pelting her stare to the ground and looking at her hands. She eventually closes her journal, places her pen in her bag, and returns her focus to the silent man with the intriguing smile. She likes the fact that he's groomed in conservative browns, grays, and black suits each day and that his modish shoes glitter and match his attaché.

The train pauses briefly at Broad Channel. Anxious commuters dart on and slip into vacant seats. Some stand unwillingly, staring enviously at the seated dozens. Most have an hour's ride into Manhattan.

The veering train runs along winding lines elevated above the bay. The sun is a golden pupil in a humungous indigo orb. Speedboats ruffle and slice the gray water below. The murky deconstructs curl into a million waves that pursue a circuitous channel to the ocean, brokenly, but still whole.

"It is 8:20 a.m., Monday, April 2009," the conductor says. "Do you know where your heart is?"

The petite woman chuckles and glances at the man. The man smiles coyly, but his eyes return to the Guyanese Chronicle on his lap.

She's a delicate flower, he decides. Maybe I'll slip her a note asking for her number. Maybe, I will. He passes a hand over his faded haircut.

The older woman pouts and props her chin with her right hand. She holds her cell phone with her left and speaks softly but briskly. Her gaze swallows the man, travelling slowly from his face down to his posh shoes.

Sometimes the man stares out of the window at planes that graze on Kennedy's airstrip. Some ascend into the expansive blue seemingly to catch the sun and rise above drifting clouds.

As the train races through Brooklyn, the man sleeps. At times, he smiles and snores softly while his right hand rubs his thigh.

The petite woman grips her pen and sways with the train's veering. She writes intensely in her diary. Its red leather cover hangs over her knees. Her left leg perches on her right displaying sleek tanned stocking legs. The older woman, who boarded with the man, observes this petite woman each morning. Now and then, she sighs heavily.

When the man awakens, he frowns at the older woman, mostly after he peeps at the petite woman.

At 34th Street, the man scurries off the train to earn his dollar. The train's door dismisses his passive face as he hurries up dusty subway stairs. The older woman has already disembarked at 14th Street. The petite woman remains in her seat wondering, who takes his hours? Will he ever ask my name? I'd like to know his. She wishes he could ride the train for hours. Maybe he's shy and she must be too.

Weeks later, the man does not board the train. Disappointment covers the petite woman's face. She forgets to write. She does not moisten her lips, but slouches in her seat. Her head nods as her fluttering eyelids embrace each other. Light snores leak from her lips. Her face remains alluring, but pensive as she sleeps.

The older woman notices and scowls. She moves hastily to the empty seat near the sleeping woman and elbows her side.

"Do you know where he is?"

The petite woman starts and asks, "Who?"

"The attractive man who often sits over there?"

The older woman wears a black shawl she ties at her neck. Her bloodshot eyes pierce the petite woman.

"I don't know where he is. We never spoke."

"I think he liked you," the older woman says.

"Really?"

"Yes."

"I liked him, too. I was waiting for him to speak."

When the train stops at West 4th, the older woman leans through the door and spits, then returns to her seat.

"Speak," she says. "Mutes don't speak."

She squints at the petite woman and chuckles. Her harsh laugh echoes through the train and agitates the air. People cast disapproving glances their way.

The older woman says after a while, "He's my husband. Perhaps you would have become his new diversion."

The petite woman flings her stare to the ground. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disrespect. I would never…oh. Please.... I only looked at your husband. I never would have encouraged him…."

"It's okay. You won't see him again."

"And if I do, I won't look at him. I'll move to another seat far away."

"You won't see him sleep on an "A" train again. His heart stopped at thirty seven. He won't frustrate my day anymore."

"But I'll move if I see him." "Don't move." "But I will. It's the right thing to do."

"Are you dim?"

"Oh dear!" the petite woman says, anxiously.

The older woman reaches for her

Letters bag and sniffles into a crushed handkerchief. She disembarks at Fourteenth Street. Her handkerchief falls and remains behind. The petite woman dives into her bag extracting her red diary. She writes, "His heart muttered a thousand words. His smile created the handsomest bouquet I've ever seen."

Brakes screech and the train see-eeees into Thirty-Fourth Street. A blind man thrusts his cane onto the floor and taps himself off the train. The train pauses. Its opened doors rattle. The petite woman starts, grabs her bag, and exits before they close.

YVETTE SHERON MINGO

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