She was a set of eyes and a nose to me, and I to her.
We sat across from each other on the Purple Line express, bundled in hats and scarves. We had separately chosen the inward-facing seats by the door; a blast of icy air at each stop and a broken heater in between kept us in our winter goodness.
I kept glancing at the little bits of plastic sticking from under her butt.
When the woman had come into the train, I had been mid-nod. Nod, microscopic sliver of sleep, head shoot up. Nod, microscopic sliver of sleep, head shoot up. So I watched her come in in strobe.
Woman in the corner of my eye, nod sleep shoot up. Woman standing across from me, nod sleep shoot up. Woman spreading plastic bag, nod sleep shoot up. Woman sits. Plastic bag?
Being the Purple Line, the train was, of course, filthy. Smears from slush-covered winter boots traced curlicues on the floor like a gray, slightly moist Book of Kells. Sharpie graffiti lined the windows. A discarded can of Orange Crush and a McDonald’s coffee cup skittered down the floor each time the train lurched to a station or a “Your attention please” delay.
Rather than sit in the muck and the slime and the residual “Who decided the seats should have fabric anyway?” this woman decided to sit on a plastic bag.
The train neared my station. I stood. She did too.
“That is a really good idea,” I said, pointing at the Target bag laying on the seat.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “You never know what’s there. They don’t clean this. It’s always wet or people are messing there. One time, I saw a man urinating right there”
“In the seat?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “Just dripping. People doing all sorts of things there. You don’t know what they get up to. Peeing and just messing there.”
“That’s why I never sit up there,” I said, gesturing to the semi-private nook up at the front of the car, the part next to the closed-off conductor’s chair when a car is chosen as the lead of a train.
“Yeah,” she said, glancing at the nook, then looking back at me. “There they think they’re private.”
How clever, I thought, as the train glided into Evanston. How clever, I though, as she picked up the plastic Target bag and carefully folded it in quadrants.
And put it in her purse.
I made a little noise that sounded like a squirrel choking. She takes a plastic bag and puts it in the filth and potential hobo pee of a CTA seat. And puts it in her purse.
And takes it out to put it in new filth.
And puts it back in her purse.
With her pens and glasses and wallet and the tissues she uses to blow her nose.
We said a pleasant goodbye on the platform. I didn’t shake her hand.
A selection of “Tales from the CTA”
- Shell game players on the Red Line
- Street musicians on the Blue Line
- Teenagers on the No. 9 bus
- Kindness on the No. 66