You opened your eyes, blinked twice, then closed them again.
You stretched your jaw and nuzzled the air the way a puppy does; half yawn, half testing to see if you remember how jaws work.
Then you glance at the 40 to 50 people standing by and decide you can catch a few more winks before the transit crew rousts you.
She was young but not terribly. Fat but not that much so. She smelled like holy hell and the clothes she had turned into blankets and pillows bore the signs of wear. Not aged and frayed movie-and-TV-show wear, but what actually happens when your back is your dresser, and those are the only clothes you’ve got.
Subtle tinges of muck and brown scattered across the once-white sweatshirt she now called blanket. Faint lines of filth traced the bits that habitually creased and folded when she sat or stood, giving the effect of cracked mud when a swamp turns drought.
Her face was… puffy? Big round cheeks that could be genetic pinchability, could be swelling from diabetes, hypoglycemia or another thing that happens when your diet goes wonky.
She shifted in her stabs at sleep, smacked her lips a few times as she readjusted. As she moved, a waft of smell pushed into the train car. I didn’t mind. I challenge anyone to live her life and not smell like that.
They stood and, as a group, as a unit, as a one, did the thing groups do best. They ignored.
Bundled in heaviness, with ear flap hats, fine leather kid gloves or just coats that weren’t traced with lines of muck, the commuters stood or sat and continued to ignore her. They — we — listened to the rhythm of the rails or more often the little white wires connecting them to a world of their choosing.
The world at the end of the earbud wires didn’t have all that if they didn’t want it to. That world didn’t have women whose best option for sleep was turning wardrobes into blankets pushing against an ‘L’ train partition. That world had games to click, diamonds to rescue, old friends to text, e-books to e-read, statuses to dive into, podcasts on the root causes of endemic poverty in urban environs with sociological text-based analysis of neoliberal response patterns to listen to and nod at.
It didn’t have some stanky bitch napping it up in the corner when all they want to do is get to work.
Or else I’m too harsh. They were as silent as I was. Maybe they were also composing their own little lullabies for the sleeping woman.
I didn’t know what lullaby to sing to her. I didn’t know what would reach and soothe this woman, lull her to a sleep less fitful than the one she was trying to grasp on a train.
She needed rest. Her brow now furrowed at the interlopers in the car. She still readjusted and smacked her lips and made little puppy stretches of the jaw.
They were the issue. This uncaring they. This they of warm-swaddled wealth standing and ignoring this human being in trouble. I could do better. I would do better if only I had the moment where this woman and I could connect, could see each other as humans and make a little bit of bad in this world go away.
You opened your eyes.
I looked away.
And the train rumbled on through Chicago.