They both get on at the same station, sit in the same row of seats. They do not know each other.
She swipes at her phone, relieved to be off work, until she notices that he has taken out a book. It is fat. He looks intimidated. Gabriel García Márquez. 100 Years of Solitude.
A slight smile pulls at the corner of her mouth. She rummages in her bag, produces the same novel. Her bookmark, ragged, threadbare, is near the end. His bookmark is brand new, university student-store issued. It is not marking anything. He is furrowing his brow at the Buendía family tree, holding the book sideways, feeling the heft.
Both are the English translations.
She opens hers, moving the bookmark to the front. She is nearly finished. She knows about Macondo and the patriarch tied to a tree and the waltzes of Pietro Crespi. The sad, doomed romantic men. The strong, long-suffering women. The hurricane should be along any minute now, more dependable than the train we are all currently riding on.
He still has all that to come, if he can get up the courage to make it past the genealogy page.
She hopes he will notice her. Book first, probably. Then he would look up at her and smile, slightly embarrassed. “What a coincidence!” he might say.
He does not.
She looks over at him a little more brazenly now, considering whether or not to say something. He has on red Beats by Dre, though she cannot tell if they are actually playing music. It would be rude to try to talk to him. He does not owe her his attention.
She stares the same page for minutes on end, not really reading. Mulling.
Fingering a page, she has made up her mind. She opens her mouth, about to say something.
“Hey! Want a phone?”
She looks up, shaken out of her world. “What?”
Two guys in their 20’s are holding boxes of stolen cell phones. “Ey I got cheap cell phones right here if you wanna buy one.”
“No thanks,” she says.
“Okay, well, they’re real cheap,” he says.
Red Headphones snaps his book shut, shoves it quickly into his fashionable messenger bag. He stands abruptly and makes his way towards the door, avoiding the men hocking hot electronics.
“Hey everyone, cheap cell phones! Get your cheap cell phones here. You got a side chick, you need a side phone. Cheap phones, cheap phones.”
Red is oblivious in the way that only white men of a certain class are oblivious. He never notices her.
At the next stop, he gets off and she watches him go. She looks back down at her book, slightly less enthusiastic about it’s contents now.
One of the men walks back to her seat, shifting the box to his hip. “Hey, what’s your name?”
She sighs and says her name like a question. “Marissa?”
“Hey well you real pretty Marissa.”
“Thanks,” she says. And she smiles the Smile. The one all women know. The Smile that is, hopefully, not encouraging but also non-threatening. The Smile that protects the fragile male ego. The Smile that says Please don’t follow me home. Please don’t murder me.
She holds up her book, no longer meant to be used as a springboard for human connection but instead now a shield.
“If you buy this phone, I’ll have your number.”
“Um?” she says, holding her book higher.
He laughs. “Nah I’m just playing with you Marissa.”
“Well, bye Beautiful.”
His voice changes, rehearsed words running into each other as he walks up the aisle. “You got a side chick, you need a side phone! Get your cheap cell phones here!”
We all ignore him. None of us owe anyone our attention.