This train is a church in both its movements and its congregation. No one dares interrupt the silence. Metal rolling over rusted metal. Outside the scenery passes by like life to a teenager: fleeting but feeling never-ending. Most passengers wish they could be anywhere else to feel anything else, to feel something other than strictly operational. At each stop people straggle off, mostly alone, onto their next journey.
New passengers come aboard. She hovers over me. She breathes harder and heavier. No other free seats. Her pink hair raises my own arm-hair. I move my bag to the ground for her to sit. She only eyes my phone. A blank screen that reflects her face. No makeup, freckles. Thin, rough skin covers her well-proportioned face.
I take a deep breath. That’s when the stench smacks me. I look at her and cough.
“Sorry, I haven’t taken a shower in a few days now,” she whispers. The suits and skirts around focused even harder on their cell phones.
“Why not?” I ask.
“I’m homeless. Makes it hard,” she says.
Twisting my head to the right, I look at the side of her face. She looks down, maybe ashamed. But I gaze toward her lap, afraid of eye contact. Her jeans are gross, not in any type of style in vogue to teenagers, with black spots and purple spots of dried blood, maybe. Her yellow boots remind me of construction attire.
“I’m sorry.” I look down at my Calvin Klein dress shoes and North Face backpack.
“Yeah, me too.” She crosses her arms.
I’m a suburban transplant who moved to the city to be closer to downtown for school, still new to city life and city people. My parents budget naivety into my college expenses. She can use my parents’ overhead more than we can.
I can’t let the other people on the crowded train, who I’ll never see again, witness me cry in sympathy. Hunching up in the seat, I take out my wallet from my back pocket.
“Here. Maybe this can help.” I extend the money toward her.
She hesitates, looks around.
“Is this for real?” This is when my eyes meet hers. Wide, blue, elusive.
She looks at my hand, taking the $200 like a busy cashier, before kissing me on the cheek. Doors open at the next stop. She jumps off without waving or looking back.
I abhor the thought of another conversation, especially with someone who saw what just happened. The passengers just glance at me. I still smell the rough circumstances that embarrassed her.
The train trails until the end of the line when we all get off. Long after the stop for my studio. Standing outside alone in the train station I wonder which could come first: someone talking to me or me talking to someone. People pass. I fiddle on my cell phone, nothing productive or fun, just killing battery. No WiFi to entertain me. Only me and my thoughts.
The temperature drops so I walk to warm my blood. Shops are closing, five minutes before 9. I beg a bakery to please stay open because I haven’t eaten or drunken anything in hours. They don’t care. They just repeat their opening hours. I check my phone to verify the time.
So I walk. I’ll try this for a night. Just one night. In the distance, I see a park without people. The inside top of the slide can be my room for the evening. I’m experiencing and learning new things, what college is for. Hopefully I can run into her again. It’s Friday night, so I can go until Monday morning without showering.