I stepped onto the A-train the other morning and was immediately greeted by a smiling face and a warm “Hello!” I looked at him — a small, young black man, face like a fifteen-year-old, blue scrubs and a baseball cap. No recognition. No, wait — is he my neighbor, the cute young guy who salts the path for me when I come out in the winter? Maybe? I smile and say hi.
“I ain’t seen you in a minute!”
Ok, that’s true. I haven’t seen my neighbor since the last snowstorm. But I thought he was taller … and a little cuter.
“I’m late this morning,” he says. LOUD. “Drank too much last night.”
“Um, I’m late, too.” This isn’t the kind of conversation my neighbor and I ever have. Maybe he’s not my neighbor?
“I’m working as a home health aide now.”
“Yeah? I didn’t know. That’s great.” And maybe an answer. Maybe he was in our training program? He’s so loud. Surely I’d remember someone so loud.
He starts telling me — practically shouting — about the particularly graphic aspects of his work. I look away, sorry to be inflicting him on my fellow A-train riders, not sure how to stop him.
But he stops himself. “You’re looking gorgeous, as always.”
Yeah, because that’s a way one of our students would ever be talking to me. So he’s not from my program? And, too, who wants to be told she’s gorgeous by a loud, hungover guy who has no qualms talking about enemas at nine in the morning in the middle of a crowded subway car? His announcement makes a whole lot of people turn to take a look at what must surely be my mortified face.
“I’m tired is what I am,” is all I can think to say. “And late for work.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll be there by 9:30.”
And see? That makes me think I do know him. But I don’t. I have a strong memory for faces. I need to trust that, to know that I really don’t know this guy. But here I am, stuck in a very public conversation with him. Too late to step back and declare him a stranger.
We pull into Jay Street, and I move for the door, clearly indicating that this is my stop. He pulls out his cell.
“You got a number?
Seriously? Seriously? Because now I’m sure of it: I don’t know this man. But what I can’t guess is: does he actually think he knows me, or is this a thing he does to try to get women’s numbers?
“I do, ” I say, “but I’m not giving it out.”
He just laughs. “That’s ok,” he says as I leave the train. “I’ll see you again. I see you all the time!”
I sincerely hope that’s not true. Too weird. Just too weird. And how much did I want to announce to everyone on that train that I didn’t know that man at all?