I’m on the outbound train and all the seats are taken, even the sideways ones that face the bathroom door and fold up like little launch pads, so I’m standing in the part of the train car with the doors that open, where I’ll be least intrusive.
Sometimes people sit on the stairs, and then when someone comes to try to go down the stairs, so they can leave the train at their stop, using every aspect of the transportation process the way it was intended, these people, who are stretched out on the stairs with their open newspaper or using their tablet sigh and grumble deeply that they have to get up and let some inconsiderate fool with poor planning skills off the train – because they were sitting on those stairs.
I’d rather stand by the door, even though after work I’m pretty tired and the bright halogen tubes kind of mix with the swaying of the train into this mesmerizing dull that throbs EKG-like beats of headache in a rock-shaped formation on the right side of my forehead.
He gets on at the second stop out from the main station, and at first I do a double-take because they look so much alike. This guy, a random guy who just got on the train and stands in the same section by the door, across from me holding the hand-rail, looks just like the guy that my girlfriend left me for. I mean, identical split-from-a-gamete-and-co-developed-in-the-womb same. Not the same person, but just like an uncanny copy. Same nose and mouth and eyes, same stupid hairstyle deliberately planned to look unplanned, same clothes.
He glances at me and kind of smiles like he knows me, like one of these “What’s up, Chief” kind of look, that guys give when they think that they are cool, and they can condescend to you like they are a close personal buddy of yours, well, I swear to God, this is no buddy of mine, and I’ll be damned if anyone can call me “Chief.”
He goes back to staring out the window built into the train door and – is he chewing gum? I’m watching his aggravating reflection in the window but I can’t tell if he’s really chewing gum, or if that’s just my impression of him, that he’d chew gum after he slaps you on the back and calls you “chief.” I have to be careful to keep my jaw from grinding, and I straighten out my shirt because the last thing I want to do is present some kind of weakness. It gets me thinking, what about this guy is so much better than me?
I mean, what about her made her think that this was more in-line with what she should go for? Is it the eyes? Is it his demeanor, his impression of self-confidence that obviously hinges on something false, manipulative? Is it because he’s built that way?
Is it something I can’t understand, something real, something that his certain kind of guy just gets that’s something I can’t get because I’m thinking about it anyway? The thought strikes a certain breathless disaster, and I’m glaring at the ground, feeling like I did in second grade when all the other boys climbed the tower obstacle in gym and I couldn’t pull myself up no matter how hard I tried, and I had to let them go ahead. I’m something different. Not like her and not like him, and not like them together. Why am I not what they are?
The train doors open with a whoosh. It isn’t my stop yet but it looks like it is his. He picks up his bag and turns to look at me before he steps off the train and I realize with embarrassment that he has noticed me looking at his reflection for the entire ride. As a handful of other people step off the train around us, he hesitates and then kind of nervously reaches into his pocket and hands me a card. Reflexively, because I don’t understand, I palm it.
“For my number,” he says, with a nervous grin, and looks at the ground. “If you want to get coffee or something.”
He hurries away. The doors close. I stare at the door. Jesus.