I came back to the city today. The train I took was sold out. My boyfriend and I found two seats together in one of those four seaters. You know, the section where two seats are backwards so that four people can face each other?
Those seats are kind of impractical, though, because there’s not enough room for four legs between the seats. Because of that, we were hoping nobody would shimmy in across from us.
But, like I said, the train was sold out. Which means two people did, indeed, do some shimmying. Our knees touched those of the couple sitting across from us as they settled in after boarding in Philly, and we proceeded to get to know each other. Since our knees were already doing it, it only made sense.
It’s amazing what kinds of things happen when you open your mouth and say hello. It never ceases to amaze me, either, how we humans find a way to tell our stories–even if it’s to a perfect stranger sitting a little too close for comfort on a random train and on one of the few dwindling days left of the year.
Sara and John were there names. Sara is a stripper from Baltimore; John, a computer engineer from Russia. No, believe it or not, we didn’t look exactly alike. Because believe it or not, I’m still not Russian. Though John wondered if I was British. “No,” I answered him, and curious to know what made him think so, I asked him why he wondered this.
“Your accent,” he said, matter of fact. Like surely I must hear this kind of thing all the time, considering the accent I use to filter my words.
I tried not to look too bewildered while I said that, no, I really don’t have a British accent (like, at all).
I asked Sara many questions about her job at the gentlemen’s club, as I’d never before sat across a stripper on a train. Well, not to my knowledge, anyway.
“Why do you do it? Do you love to dance?” I wondered.
Turns out the money is good and she does love to dance. But she’d like to try a different form of dance at some point, probably sooner than later. Something safer, and for that, I don’t blame Sara at all.
I found her fascinating. She was sad and beautiful and a little unkempt, like maybe a shower is number ten on her list of things to do and she hasn’t gotten past number six in a few days. She has a nervous laugh that punctuates the ends of most of her sentences and watching her, she reminded me of the broken delphinium I had in my garden when I was little. It was blooming and beautiful and bright blue, but the stalk had cracked and the poor thing just couldn’t stand upright any longer.
Sara has a dad who speaks to her about religion all the time. He also is strung out on Xanax and wasted every night and keeps twelve perfect guitars he only uses to play worship at his church. Kayla has a hard time with her dad, but Christmas was peaceful this year because he didn’t mention religion so much, she got to watch tv in peace, and her step mom bought her a coach bag.
“Do you care about coach bags?” I asked, taking in her hipster vibe and guessing that she didn’t.
“Not at all,” she said with a laugh.
Then my boyfriend picked up his book and Sara asked him if she could please read the back. He said sure and they talked about the book.
Now, I haven’t read this particular book, but from what I understand, it’s about a non religious way to communicate with others about God. Who he is. His kindness. His love.
John chimed in with his own questions and balanced it out with observations he had, having grown up in Atheist Russia. We talked and smiled and I listened a lot and kept asking questions and then listened some more.
Finally we got to Penn Station. My boyfriend handed Sara his book. “If you’d like this, I’d like you to have it,” he told her.
“Really?” she asked, and hesitantly took the book he was offering.
We said goodbye and Sara left with the book my boyfriend had boarded the train with. Maybe it’ll bring some peace to her life. Maybe it’ll give her the courage to get a job in which she feels safe. Maybe it’ll build up her heart, knowing that some people give her things while wanting absolutely nothing in return.
Except for a life that suits her dear heart a little better. Because when lots of lives suit lots of hearts, the world becomes the kind of merry and bright we sing about at christmastime, I think.