Sun-toasted ladies on the bus
their Spanish words spill like a bag of marbles
clatter towards me down the aisle
Sun-toasted ladies on the bus
The rotating rubber handrail
of the subway station escalator
like the bare steel brakes of an incoming train
or a pig having a really bad day
The father and daughter beside me on the train
speak in sign language
at full volume
Their karate chop hands
and over expressive mime mouths
make me anxious
I want to ask them
politely, of course,
with sensitivity, no doubt,
Keep it the fuck down
are trying to read
This is the point in the bus ride
—the down slope of the bridge—
when I grow disdainful of any book I’m reading
and lean my forehead against the cool, dirty window
to read license plates
A crack in the pavement
tells me where to stand
and that unwashed body smell
in the wide berth
around him at the escalator’s
Yonge line, heading south from St. Clair. I get on and notice a free seat but decide I’ll stand instead when I notice why it’s free. A slightly rough looking man with unkempt, greyish hair and dressed in soiled denim is occupying the next seat. He isn’t particularly filthy but a certain degree of twitchiness gives him a definite air of danger.
That is, if you define “danger” as the possibility that somebody on the subway might actually speak to you. He possesses those overly alert, slightly manic mannerisms which are clear indicators of a Talker. Sort of like how you know from twenty paces that a dog is going jump up on you and lick your face.
The alarm bells he’s set off in my head are clearly silent for the well-dressed, middle-aged woman carrying a plastic shopping bag who plonks down beside him. She’s either far braver than I or hasn’t assessed the situation to the same degree. Due to the her slightly oblivious, preoccupied expression, I suspect the latter.
He immediately begins talking to her. Judging from the look that’s crept into the corner of her eyes, I’m glad to be wearing my iPod and unable to make out exactly what he’s saying. After I notice her loud, nervous laughter, I remove one ear-bud to evesdrop.
He says, “You only have one bag today.”
“Yes. Just the one,” she says and laughs nervously again. Her body language is now beginning to migrate from politely accommodating to closed-off.
“Where do you shop? You shop at the mall,” he asks and answers.
“Sometimes, yes,” she confirms unnecessarily.
“I know you. I seen you there. You’re always running around with three bags. I watch you all the time. Three bags.”
Looking confused and a little more worried, she says, “Oh. I go to the camera store sometimes,” offering him more information than I would have.
“I’m a janitor there. I see everyone. I watch you lots. I seen you always have lots of bags.”
It’s clear by looking at her that she’s quickly come to understand the magnitude of the error she made by sitting beside the scruffy man. The look of worry has spread from her eyes to flood her whole face. This is too uncomfortable for me so I stick the ear-bud back in and focus on my book.
When we arrive at Bloor Station the woman sheds her increasingly unhappy expression and brightly says, “This is my stop. Bye-bye!”
Her bubble is immediately burst when the man says, “Bloor? I’m getting off here too. Now I’m stalking you. Hahaha.” The woman doesn’t respond in any way other than looking exponentially more worried so he quickly adds, “Don’t take that literally.”
The woman nervously laughs one more time, but there is real terror in her eyes as they part ways.