There were six hands but only 23 fingers wrapped around the pole on the Blue Line train.
Only the bottom two hands managed to clasp all five around the pole by the half wall, half Plexiglas partition that keeps the squirt of passengers at 5:05 p.m. from heading straight left or right once on board. The partition creates barriers, crevices to tuck around and a place for the gathered, swaying, standing mob to brace with a finger or two or three as the L galumphs forward and back as it limps down the line.
This particular pole on this particular barrier on this particular blue-clad rough beast slouching the commuters home only had two who could get all five fingers around it. Both cheated a bit.
The bottom hand, tucked below the horizontal bar shooting sideways to hold up the Plexiglas, was only half on the pole. The other half of that gripped the plastic “dusky walnut woodgrain pattern” wall part of the barrier.
The hand wore a black glove — not much to go on there. The owner of the hand stood by the door that at each stop jimmied and shook as if about to open while a voice overhead droned that there was a train at the next station that would be there in a few minutes so people should just wait and stand clear of the doors. It looked like the hand belonged to a Latino woman, but as she was six inches to my left as I was jammed in the corner on the other side of the partition, I couldn’t turn my head enough to see her.
The next-highest hand belonged to a white woman who looked angry. As she gripped the trapezoid knob where the pole meets the horizontal bar (another cheater), she swayed with the crowd in the center standing area between the two doors.
He hair was mousy brown streaked with white. She looked mad at her commute, mad at not yet being home or at having to go at all. A pale, creased brow furrowed further. She rocked back and forth as the train lurched. Her clothes betrayed hers as the wealthiest hand on the pole.
Above her hand, another gloved one reached from afar, arm snaking from the crowd. This was also a woman, although the crush of people kept me from seeing more than a fuzzy brown sleeve and a cheap black cotton glove straining to keep two fingers and a thumb on the pole. No race. No age. I could only guess it was a woman’s hand by the size and the fashions around it. The owner was invisible, lost among the wedged commuters.
Above that hand, a young woman’s. She was white as well, but with a bit of hue the boys who would hit on her might call “exotic.” She was able to get three slim fingers with nails painted a light pink around the pole, plus a bedazzled, spotted and striped pointer finger nail tap tap tapping on the bar. I could see her well. Headphones. Flawless skin. A calm in her eyes that said she was young enough that the crowd and the crush of people didn’t matter — she still was more comfortable than any of the rest of us had been in years. Tap tap tap, the elaborate nail went.
Above her, worn fingers held from afar. It was a man’s hand, worn and calloused. Sometimes only two fingers, each ridden with nail rot, were all he could hook around the bar. Other times, he could sneak a thumb to brace as the train pulled forward. A workman’s hand from the sleeve of an off-brand Carhartt jacket.
At top, another angry and wealthy white woman reaching from the center area. She could only get three fingers around the pole as well.
The middle-aged workman would never visit the woman with the mousy hair and grim, wealthy demeanor. They wouldn’t go to dinner with the child who dappled one nail like a Picasso while dipping the others warm pink.
But for that moment on one lurching, bumbling train, during that one ride home during the worst moment of a day to be on a train, all 23 fingers gripped the same metal tube for support.
Inches apart and attached to people who would never to see each other again, 23 fingers all clutched against the pull of the herd for something solid to hold on to.