At the end of a long week, I dragged my tired high-heeled boots to the subway, eager to get home and kick them off. I hadn’t felt like myself, particularly on this day, and had had to make an effort to smile and make polite conversation at the office. When I arrived at the subway platform it was unusually crowded, only feeding my self-pity as I added this to the list of inconveniences that I felt that I had suffered already. I waited for three trains before I finally squeezed into a subway car, which, albeit crowded, was manageable.
My feet hurt enough without having to make things worse by standing all the way home on the subway. I noticed an empty seat, occupied only by a large knapsack. While no one appeared to be attempting to ask the backpack’s owner, a young man sitting quietly with his face mostly concealed by his hood in the corner, to possibly move the knapsack over so that they may sit down, I was not going to pass up the opportunity to do so myself.
I offered to only take up part of the seat so that the young man would not be forced to sit with his knapsack on his lap. A strong scent of beer permeated the air around him. “No worries, I’m used to that. Do you mind sitting next to a drunk alcoholic?” I noticed that he was holding a cup, discreetly concealed behind his knapsack.
“Not at all,” I laughed ironically, “I’m used to that.” I sat down and sighed heavily.
“Tough day?” he asked.
I hesitated. “Yes,” I responded after a moment.
“Yeah, working sucks, I imagine. I don’t do it myself. Can’t stand the hours or the bureaucratic BS. Huh, of course I don’t have rent to pay – no place to live except my tent just off the highway.”
I found myself feeling concerned for this person, wondering how he would survive a night on the street where the temperature was set to exceed all-time record lows. “Would you consider going to a homeless shelter tonight? I saw on the news that an extreme cold alert has been issued.”
The young man chuckled. “That doesn’t bother me. I’ve got my trustee sleeping bag. It keeps me warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. I have everything I need right here.” He patted his knapsack. “Besides, there are too many rules in the shelters.” He shook his head. “Not for me.” I hoped that he kept a close eye on his belongings, everything he owned, everything he had for survival, right there in that knapsack that had brought us to this chance meeting.
I talked with this stranger all the way home, mostly just listening to him talk about how he did basically whatever he wanted. As far as he was concerned, he was taking advantage of the so-called system as best he could and living life, modest as it was, by his own rules. Certainly our lives were worlds apart, but I thought he had some good points all the same. When I thought of the stack of bills I had to pay, I wondered, momentarily, if his life was somehow simpler. I knew that I could never survive the type of life this person led, nor did I envy him his admitted alcoholism, but my conversation with him took me away from my own trivial problems of the day and gave me a look into a window of a person clearly less fortunate than I, his light-hearted attitude about it notwithstanding.
At the end of the ride he thanked me for talking to him. “It was nice meeting you,” he looked me straight in the eye without the shield of the hooded sweatshirt he wore. “I don’t get a chance to talk to a lot of nice people.” He knew I didn’t judge him and he appreciated it. I in turn was grateful that I didn’t get on those previous trains that day, happy that I had ended up sitting next to this person. We might not ever see each other again but he was the only person who really made me laugh that day and I would not soon forget him. Whatever the brief connection was between us, it somehow made my journey home more pleasant that evening and I hope it did the same for him. “Thank you; it was nice meeting you.” I smiled, for real for the first time that day.
As I turned and prepared to wade through the masses to get to the door, my new friend, who so far had remained relatively quiet, yelled out. “Hey! Everybody stand back and let this girl through!” As I observed the startled looks on people’s faces, I stopped in my tracks and laughed out loud. Soon the people around me were laughing too, some visibly relieved, and gladly parted the way for me to exit. Before I did I took one last look behind me. The young man had put his hood back on and his knapsack back on the seat next to him. He gave me the thumbs up.
“Party on Girl.”
Posted on September 24, 2012, in See Some of My Published Articles and tagged Who would have thought that my ride home with a stranger would be the best part of my day?. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.