On the train in front of me there are a woman and a young boy. The boy is plump and startled-looking, and the woman is fat and ugly and carries a carved walking stick. They do not smile.
They sit in front of me and suddenly they are deeply involved in some crisis; the woman looks very intensely at the boy, eyes boring into his cheek, which is turned to her; he is thudding his head sullenly against the window of the train. “He’s going to kill me,” she says to the little boy, so softly I can hardly hear her. The boy keeps looking back a few seats behind me, so I turn to look. There is a scowling man with shaggy grey hair and crags in his face and gnarled hands sitting rows removed from them. He does not look up. He seems altogether blurred. There is nothing to connect him to the woman and boy many rows ahead except for the boy’s furtive glances. After many moments, the woman turns to look back toward the man. “Marty,” she says. “I left my purse in that taxi.”
The man says nothing. I sneak looks at him. He has raised one hand to massage his forehead, eyes closed. Eloquent with disgust. Grim sternness rolls off him. The woman and boy face forward.
The tips of the boy’s ears are red. The woman gazes at the little boy, her face drawn. A young woman in a dandelion-yellow dress has overheard the ugly woman, and says loudly, busily, “If you call the cab company, they’ll keep it for you. If you remember what kind of cab it was.”
Both the ugly woman and her little boy glance back several rows at the scowling man in perfect cowering synchrony, then face forward again. If either of them had done it on their own it might have been inconspicuous. “I don’t remember the cab company,” the ugly woman says, too harshly. The young woman shrugs, snaps her gum, looks at her phone. The ugly woman fixes her eyes on the boy again, and collapses in on herself very slightly. They exchange hushed statements that I cannot hear. The boy glances back at the man much more often than he has to, eyes wide and lips parted slightly. He is all of twelve, and looks like he is strategizing. People file out of the train car, people file back in.
The man does not look at them once, does not speak, slouches in his seat several rows back with dark brooding eyes as if he is entirely alone. After a long period of silence, the little boy reaches around his ugly mother’s shoulders and hugs her to him. She rests her large head against his neck, leaning into him. He rubs her back slowly with his chubby freckled hand and looks out the window. When the train stops, the dark man rises laboriously from his seat and passes the woman and boy, stands at the door of the train. They rise after him and stand behind him. When the door opens, he strides out of the car, and they follow him, in a line, man, woman, and boy, not a word between them, and then they are gone.