Skinny man in his 20s. Typical Boston Irish lad, wiry hair, pointy chin, wearing a faded sports jersey and, for most of the Red Line ride up from Broadway, nervously smacking his cellphone. Now, after the train had stopped at Park Street to gorge itself on afternoon commuters and groan along to Charles, he'd suddenly found the strength and inner courage to speak aloud.
This didn't faze the trainload one bit. Many folks suddenly find themselves getting chatty around Charles. Usually, though, their statements are self-affirming solutions to identity crises: "It's me." Or self-grounding reminders of one's place in the universe: "I'm on the train." Often, they involve cellphones. This young man didn't have one, though. He was staring at the ground.
Then he stared up at the woman in front of him. Early 30s. Office worker. Probably HR. Large black bag over her shoulder.
She finally decided to notice him.
"I was, uh. Just noticing. New shoes?"
The other passengers, obviously in shock that A Stranger had actually gone and spoken to Another Stranger, stayed stock-still and silent. Everybody nonchalantly tried to appear preoccupied with staring at anything else they could find. I peered over my copy of 101 Ways to Avoid Eye Contact and looked down. The lady was wearing some strappy kind of shoe-thing. One on each foot, I mean. She had two feet. And each foot was wearing a shoe. But one foot had a band-aid around its ankle.
"No," the lady sighed. "That was my own stupidity." Then she dropped her bag on the ground and stepped behind it, inching herself away from the guy and conveniently hiding her footwear at the same time. I braced myself for the obvious follow-up question, but it never came. The guy had turned to another lady standing near him.
"Want my seat?"
I went back to my book.