I looked up to find her staring at my leg. Her smile revealed crowfeet, which made her thick dark eyebrows seem relaxed, although in fact, they did not move. I glanced at my leg and smiled in return.
Earlier that afternoon, the zip on my boot snagged my tights. When I stood, my dress rushed down to my knees and swallowed the tear, which was determined to run anyhow. After searching for clear nail varnish around the office, I finally found red nail polish with which to halt the run.
When I sat down in the train, my dress rode inches higher exposing the long gash on my tights. Three red dots, bright as blood, marked the spots where the nail polish had tried in vain to heal the tear. I was tired and my vanity had expired so I adjusted my bag to hide the split. My bag must have slipped because I woke up from my nap to find my torn tights in her line of sight.
I wanted to ask her, haven’t you ever done the same thing too? A smile can be an invitation to talk, but even with eye contact, urban solitude—that unwritten code, which prescribes polite distance in communal spaces—prevailed. Her gaze remained on my tights.
We were four seated in our corner, two sets of seats facing each other with enough distance to keep knees from brushing. Still, feet touched whenever legs were stretched, even a little, resulting in both stretcher and stretchee mumbling, “Oh sorry,” before retreating into urban solitude.
The people crammed in the aisle, shuffled grumpily at each station where more passengers entered the train than exited. A few weeks ago, the Metro ran a story about frustrated passengers who felt cheated because they had to stand their entire journey. The NS had explained that werk aan het spoor meant fewer trains with shorter carriages. I thought it was unfair that passengers suffered discomfort while the NS took the public for a ride and cashed in on full fares.
Complaint can start conversation, but even those standing dulled their inconvenience behind earphones and displayed their perseverance by texting or reading on their handheld devices as the train lurched and swayed, speeding from city to city.
The woman next to me had timed the previous passenger’s exit to perfection and so became the lucky winner of a vacant seat. She was watching a movie on her phone and her eyes didn’t wander from the screen once. Sitting directly opposite me was a girl whose head bobbed at intervals as though she was listening to music but she was sleeping. The white wires of her earphones peeked out from her black hijab. The woman adjacent her, who kept looking at my tights, wore shiny grey tights and black high heels.
This woman broke into a delicate laugh all of a sudden. Could hosiery induce such delight? A faint whimper diverted my attention. I followed the sound and peered down. A red leather collar; how could I have missed it? She had not been smiling at me. All this time, it was the puppy in the raffia tote, which the woman next to me straddled.
Sometimes the best reminders come in small packages—I am not the center of the universe, only mine.
They say before you assume anything, try this crazy method called asking. But I could not have asked her, could I?
Don’t acknowledge fellow passengers or sustain eye contact beyond two seconds. Please respect urban solitude. – unknown
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.