I see him sitting in the same seat everyday - well not exactly the same seat - but close enough. We take the same train - mornings and nights - together, but separate since we both sit alone. He sits with his face to the window staring out, his attention moving from the glass to a book he carries but never reads. I know this because he looks down at the open book for almost an hour without turning a page.
On Monday, I find myself staring at him, sitting one row back, peering through the space between the seats where I can see him, but he cannot see me. I find myself tracing the outline of his face, of his jaw in my mind, my imaginary finger moving from his ear to the tip of his chin darkened with stubble, wondering how it might feel to place my lips there.
By Thursday, I start to daydream about him. What it would be like to know him, to slip my hand into his, to let my head rest on his shoulder late at night when we are too sleepy to do anything but kiss and close our eyes?
Today, I notice him sitting in the station, his coat folded neatly over his arm, with the book in his hand. It is the same book he has carried for weeks and not read. I watch as he sits down, folds the book open, and holds the pages flat with his fingertips. He is not reading the book, just glancing at the page, but never turning it, he is stuck.
I want to know the name of this book he carries like a security blanket, like an anchor that keeps him from floating away. I strain to make out the title on the top of each page centered between the middle seam and the page number: SIMULACRA AND SIMULATION, Jean Baudrillard. The book is a mystery, but not him, I have studied him.
He wears the sort of clothing that men who work at banks wear, the kind that looks like any other. I can tell his clothes are expensive, but his suit is no different than a thousand that I see every morning and evening on the train. I look at the suit and then to his face; his face does not match the suit.
Today, the seat next to him is empty. I sit down quickly before he can sit next to the window. Before he can get his coat tucked into the overhead bin, I scoot past him and sit down crossing my legs so that he must ask me to move in order get by. And in that moment, he looks at me and I see his eyes clearly for the first time. I see, no matter how similar he is to all the other men in suits - navy three-button pin-striped, standard black double-breasted, or charcoal grey worsted wool ones - even though he appears to be just like any other suit, any other nine-to-fiver, there is something different about him, something in his eyes, deeper, and longing to escape.
He is surpised to see me sitting in the seat and he says, "Oh," looking down at my legs and to me staring up at him. I'm surprised too, since he doesn't seem the type to be bold. But he doesn't look away, instead he stares back, unafraid, unfazed, reaching out to me from behind the safety of his glasses and the safety of his world. I will learn later that he is just as I suspected: a superhero in Clark Kent clothing, waiting for the right person to whisper in his ear,
"It's okay - fly."
You see, I have superpowers too - extraordinary vision - and I've been looking for him, searching, knowing one day I would see past the ordinary and recognize the extraordinary in him.
He says, "Excuse me," brushes his long legs against mine as he squeezes past, and I am glad for my height, glad that I am tall for a woman, glad to feel his body - real - against me.
"I see you all the time," I say, smiling.
He laughs a little and takes off his glasses, eyes clear, direct, without fear or blinking or turning away, "Is that so?"
"Yes," I say, "I think we must work very close by - live close or something."
"Yes," he says, "I think you're right." He extends his hand, and I half expect him to say his name is Clark. "John."
"Oh," I say, "Hello John. Bertie."
He laughs, "Bertie?"
"Yes, Alberta, but everyone calls me Bertie — I sort of like Bert instead, but no one says it."
Then, he smiles wide, "I'll call you Bert, then."
"Okay," my voice trembles a little and I laugh, realizing, suddenly somehow, I will never be the same after meeting him.
"Okay," he says.
We gaze at each other, our bodies rocking gently with the motion of the train as it moves along the tracks taking us home.
words: Trace Sheridan, California (34thParallel / Trace)
photo: Tammy Ho, Hongkong (sighming)