The motions of the train make the passengers slide from side to side and together they bob in jerks like a boat rocking at sea. In one car after another nodding faces ride the F-train, all gravely meditating on the turbulent busyness of life. If someone suddenly should sink her face down to her chest, drop her arms down to the sides of her legs in a final gasp, only then perhaps, in its slumbering, serpentine movements, would the train have shown mercy, just for a brief moment, and stepped on its rusty, shrieking breaks.
He opens his round, brown eyes and a subtle shiver runs through those fine river-like cheek bones which are half hidden in a wilderness of red beard. His hands,light as feathers, remain resting on his knees, even when he moves a little in the seat. Opposite him a man, dressed in a blue suit, tie and polished shoes, is absorbed in a pile of paperwork which he has taken out of his briefcase. Beyond him through the window, it is black like on a cloudy night. Here and there a light will appear out of the nothingness, revealing the presence of a damp, concrete wall, a broken glass bottle, an old newspaper, as the train coils its way through a mural of darkness.
Three Peruvian musicians in their rainbow colored vests, one taller than the others, are seated half way down the car. They have their instruments in their laps: a drum, a guitar and a pan flute. Their black hair shines with their smiling, tanned faces as if they have just returned from their mountains. One of them begins to beat his drum with a feeble hand while he moves his lips. At first his singing has no sound, then as the two other men join in, it picks up a soft toned voice with words that carry colors and flowers rather than lingual meaning.
Further up an elderly woman is listening to the singing while trying to resist the lulling motions of the train. Her eye lids are opening and closing in slow movements. She is dressed in her best clothes, wearing a small, checked hat which covers her hair that she has gathered with hair pins in a neat knot. Her hands rest impatiently on a sagging, brown leather bag. Her wrinkles are buried in layers of powder and in the faint lighting, time doesn’t show on her worn and tired face. She only smiles when she occasionally looks at her husband who is seated next to her, in his Sunday best. His proud and worn hands are resting calmly in his lap, holding onto a pair of gloves.
Her lips are pressed tightly together when she casts her eyes on the two young people, holding hands, who board the train. She follows them out of the tail of her eye. They start kissing, his hands touching her behind and her hands around his neck, and the elderly woman looks away. When the lovers are suddenly aware of the train, the excitement of its movements and the unbridled forces that move in them like currents of water, they stop kissing and speak to each other in whispers.
The college student who is sitting next to the man in the suit looks up briefly from her reading to take a look at the noise the lovers are making. She, her face hidden by her long, brown hair, seems lost in the words on the pages. Once in a while she will scribble a note or two on the margin of a page. Her backpack with the rest of her books and papers rest unnoticeably up against the man’s brief case, like a forbidden caress secretly exchanged between lovers.
Above the tunnels and corridors, where the sky is clearing up after two days of cold rain, no one hears the rattling of the train on the tracks, or notices the hundreds of people born further and further into the dark, and slowly lulled into drowsiness by its lullabies.
* * *
She sees its light appearing out of the tunnel like two eyes shining in the dark, then its smooth silvery body glides into the station. The cool wind the train carries with it caresses her skin and plays with her hair. When the train stops and the conductor makes his announcements over the static loudspeakers, she steps in like a child taken into its strong, secure arms to be carried away.
In the rush of the morning, she forgot to comb her long dark hair, and it has remained uncombed all day. But her hair is thick and smooth like sand in water, so it isn’t noticeable. Her face is reflected in the glass of the doors and she looks for a brief moment at the image of herself. The blackness beyond the glass conceals the clear blue shade of her eyes and she recognizes her mother’s face, an Indian woman with dark, heavy eyelids and warm, plump forms. Dressed in her long black coat, black pants and shoes, she seems to be heading for the graveyards and their elegies instead of the day into the blue like she had planned; it looks like only her alluring, red painted lips can intimidate that ample somberness.
She stands for a while turned away from the doors. Her eyes scan the half empty car as if searching for a seat. She chooses the end of the car where there is a long row of vacant seats. She sits down, however, right next to him, without leaving the usual distance of a seat in between. She studies her neighbor openly. Despite a seriousness in his pale face, his lips form a perfectly mild smile directed to no one in particular. He meets her curious gaze with a smile as if they know one another from before. She feels like touching his blond pony-tail which rests on his neck, but keeps her hands on her thighs.
They sit in silence not looking at each other, until her shoulder touches his arm as the train suddenly jerks to a halt, stuck somewhere between two points. Her lips are pressed tightly together as if she is trying to hold back what is right behind them, and her eyes are open and focused like a boxer facing an opponent. He is smiling calmly. He seems to have a smile for every moment that presents itself for him. Nor does he seem surprised when she finally speaks.
“Hi there! Sorry about the bump.”
“It’s okay. I’m fine,” he answers but doesn’t look at her.
“There is something I want to tell you,” she lingers for a moment. “It scares me a bit but it is as though I can always find you. Like you are everywhere I look.”
Her voice shivers involuntarily as if listening to her thoughts spoken out loud scares her. She has her hands in her lap and is looking at the man on the opposite side in his dry cleaned suit, reading. The distraction seems to calm her down and her motionless lips lose some of their tension.
“I don’t know. I just want to live a normal life. And why not?”
She is looking at him again, acknowledging that he is listening, and no longer smiling.
“You should decide what feels right for you to do,” he answers quietly.
“My boyfriend for two years, imagine that! Two years and then he left me the other day,” her eyes search stubbornly for a point of focus in the air, but do not have much luck. ”I know life stinks sometimes. The funny thing is, if you can call it funny, it’s not that he doesn’t love me anymore, he adores me but I am too wild. That’s the word he used.”
She starts laughing. Her small body chuckles with the motions of the train. She glances at her neighbor.
“Just like my mother and father,” she adds.
“It seems to go in circles like that often,” he answers, glancing at the man opposite them, for a moment.
“I’m not even a feminist, I didn’t sign up for any of that. My mother is a traditional housewife. I just found out that I love being this way, like me. In India, they say that we come back many times depending on how well we perform on the stage of life. They say just stick to the path made for you. Which path? Even if it is true, we shouldn’t recline too comfortably. Life is this moment more than anything else, and we have to live it.”
She throws her head toward him and waves of her mane follow her, forming a circle in the air. It makes him move out of his composed position as if he is suddenly uncomfortable. She laughs again, lightly, amused by his reaction.
“It looks like you just woke up.”
“In a manner of speaking, perhaps.”
“So where are we going?” she asks and puts her arm around his shoulder and rests her head gently on it.
“You’re not scared anymore?!” she says.
It sounds more like a statement than a question. He moves her head away but not her hand.
“Where to soul man?” she asks more softly.
“To Coney Island. I’m visiting my grandfather. He has a shop out there.”
“Is he from Coney Island?”
“No, from Moscow, my parents brought him over.”
“To the brave, new world. The story seems familiar. So you must be Russian Orthodox. Are you very into that...religion?” she asks, putting emphasis on ‘very’.
“What do you mean?” he says and his smile looks defensive.
“You look like a strong believer. A man of faith, you know.”
“I think God is every man’s own business. He can’t be grasped, only if you look within.”
His face is so serious now that she feels like making him giggle and stir in his seat. Maybe if she squeezed both of his cheeks to make his blood flow a little faster. She decides not to.
“She can’t,” she replies.
“She is just as much a ‘she’ as he is a ‘he’.”
“It’s just a manner of speech and choice of wording.”
“Yes, but what a choice!” she says, and her hand moves away from his neck.
For a while, she looks at the ads on the curved upper parts of the walls that reach the ceilings.
“You know that I have watched you for weeks. You normally take the F the other way into Manhattan,” she utters quietly and he stirs a little.
“Yes, I work uptown...,” he begins.
“With computers, right?” she interrupts him.
“How do...?” he lingers, caught by surprise. She is smiling now, he isn’t.
“I really like you, even now talking to you. Your god isn’t a ‘he’. I can feel that.”
“You surprise me,” he shows her a new smile from his collection, it is warm and welcoming.
A moment of silence disrupts the exchange of words between them. The train stops, lets out the man in the suit and the musicians, and a new passenger boards.
The train has emerged from the tunnels and is now gliding on a track, like a bridge high above Brooklyn’s urban silhouettes.
“Will you take me with you? I’d love to meet your grandfather.”
“Of course. The beach will be beautiful. There will be very few people, it being out of season and all.”
“Maybe we could go hand in hand like a couple down the board walk?”
“Maybe,” his voice is excited and his lips on the verge of laughter. “I’m curious, how did you find me? You have really seen me before?”
“Yes, of course, you’re always here.”
“But how did you find me?”
She looks at him with open, curious eyes that seem first to be searching for something, then changing course.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I just followed my nose,” she points her finger to her nose and starts snorting loudly like a pig. The girl with the book looks up at the two opposite her, amused by the commotion. She puts the book back in her bag. Her timid eyes are following them warily.
“I want to get closer. I want to feel you,” she moves her arm tighter around him.
“Not now,” he says shyly and glances at the lovers who now seem to have lost a considerable amount of interest in themselves.
“I know these train seats don’t make it very comfortable, do they? Perhaps if we moved over to the corner where the seats are facing each other.”
“We are almost there.”
“Are you scared of me?”
“Well, you shouldn’t be, I don’t always mean what I say in a bad way. Tell me if I do scare you.”
“I will. Let’s just wait.”
“Let me know then.”
“When the waiting is up.”
* * *
Together with the remaining passengers on the train, they walk out onto the platform, out under the cloudless sky. The wind is cold but they don’t notice. They stand still on the concrete ground, their bodies, now separated by open space and fleeting air, are still bobbing slightly from the motions of the train. People pass by them, their steps echoing on the barren concrete, until they are all alone. She lets her head fall back and looks at the sky; in the horizon beyond the Ferris wheel and the low, ramshackle buildings, he notices the crispy whites of the Atlantic waves.
“What’s your name?” She asks as she turns to him, lowering her face from the clear blue.
He pauses as if searching for the right moment to answer her. When she knows his name, it will be as if she knows everything about him. She will reach his spirit. He lingers before he notices the blue clearness in her eyes.
“Sheehan,” he answers quietly.
Her hair is glittering in the sunshine, it looks like it has changed color to a lighter more golden shade, no longer dark. Her blue eyes are open, absorbing the light effortlessly. She walks a few steps positioning herself on the middle of the platform. He stares at her with wonder, as if she has cast a spell on him. Then she starts repeating his name as if tasting its rich texture.
“Sheeehaaan,” she sings to herself, “Sheeehaaan”. Her low voice becomes a chanting as if she is repeating a mantra over and over. When she looks at him again,she is smiling happily.
“Yes, I definitely feel you. You are quite amazing, Sheehan. You know, we are like light and dark, warm and cold, water and air.” He looks at her, eyes open and fingers quivering. Something in him has an urge to dance and fly, like a butterfly when it leaves its pupal armor.
“By the way, I’m Shanna,” she says teasingly opening her lips, as she movescloser to him, so close that their lips can touch.Published in Promethean Literary Magazine at City College, Fall 1998 © Written by Nya Gregor Fleron