An Unspoken Exchange
A shuffle outside of normal train movement caught Jimmy’s eye. Unready for the train’s sudden motion, a small blonde-haired girl with a large backpack had almost fallen onto the dirty car floor and would have, if her mother had not pulled her up at the right moment. The woman instructed her daughter to firmly hold onto the pole. More than likely it was the schoolgirl’s first time on the subway, easily seen in her struggle for balance.
Jimmy went back to his sci-fi novel. The book told of knights, men fighting against their king, forced to take the lives of others in order to secure their own. The vehicle of his journey held steady in his long brown fingers, he sped through the words, distancing himself from the dullness of the train around him.
The F train stopped, emptied itself, and became crowded again. Knowing his station was coming up next, Jimmy hurried to finish the last paragraph of the chapter. The final sentence read, “Sometimes this world is more complicated than you’d like.” Contemplating that edict, Jimmy closed the book, placed it inside his bag, and sat up, waiting for the next stop to come. He peered at the silver watch on his wrist, shining against his mocha skin, and relaxed with the assurance of punctuality.
Light blue eyes met his brown ones at the same level. The little girl with the backpack shied away, her snowy freckled face shrinking and burying itself in a woman’s skirt. Her mother, holding the little girl’s hand, gave Jimmy a smile. Taken off guard, he returned the gesture and looked away.
The man next to Jimmy got up, signaling to his seat, and squeezed toward the train doors, trying to keep his phone above a sea of feet.
“Come on, sit,” the woman said. The little girl’s blues found Jimmy, then she shook her head. Scared of the tall unfamiliar man, she hugged her mother’s leg as the train lurched and used that pole for support instead.
Jimmy ran his hand through his coarse hair. Children were weird to deal with on the train, he thought. Sometimes they smiled at you, which was nice, but then they stared too long. With their faces to the window and knees on the seat, they might kick you, and their red-faced mothers would try to scold them, embarrassed that their child was misbehaving and breaking the so solid rules of train etiquette. The blushing woman would then apologize, you would accept their apology as you understood that this was, after all, a child, but to no matter as the child would inevitably continue whatever it was that caused his or her mother to apologize. Jimmy had experienced this many times before, as any train goer has, and by now understood the cycle’s course.
And there it was when Jimmy looked up — the flustered redness of the woman’s face. She struggled to maintain eye contact.
“Sorry, my daughter…she, uh…has this thing where she’s scared of men.”
“That’s fine. I understand,” Jimmy replied. He looked at the girl, who peeked around for a quick second before hiding again.
“Sorry. She does this with all men,” the woman told him, with emphasis on the word “all.”
Jimmy furled his eyebrows in confusion, and then reclined in unsettled understanding. He looked away from the woman. The train was almost at his stop anyway, so Jimmy decided to get up and let them sit together. He clutched the railing above the seats for balance, then struggling to avoid hitting any heads or elbows, swung his book bag over his back and put both arms under the straps. Relaxing her blues, the little girl finally sat down.
Jimmy began making his way to the doors, waiting for them to open.
“You can sit back down, if you’d like,” said the woman. Jimmy turned back. The mother smiled and with her eyes and nose pointed to the seat next to the little girl.
“Oh, that’s all right, Miss. My stop is coming up next.”
“You should. It would help her get over her fear of men.”
“Uh…no… that’s all right…”
“Please. I think you should. It would really help.”
Jimmy glanced at the woman, then quickly looked away. “Uh, sure.” His frame tall, he awkwardly bent under the woman’s arm holding on to the railing and sat down next to the girl. He glanced down at her. Ignoring him, the girl swung her legs and played with the frayed edges of her blouse. He felt huge and menacing next to her, with his knees much higher than hers and towering like a giant, looking at the crown of her head where flaxen hair fell over her face. His size did not add strength to him though, and he felt suddenly that the knights in his book were much more resolute than he.
He glanced at the woman, who again smiled.
“Thank you. This will really help.” Her face seemed a little frozen with that smile and even her eyes tried to exude kindness. “Again, just to let you know, she does this with all men.”
Jimmy replied with a sheepish smile of his own, then tried not to look at the woman for the rest of what seemed like the longest distance between stops he had ever experienced.
Adetomiwa Victor Owoseni is a young writer from Queens, NY who currently attends Howard University. In his spare time when he is not being a busy college student or working on his writing, he enjoys spending time with (and somewhat annoying) his four amazing siblings.
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