She first noticed him, when? It must have been in the winter. She remembers now because he had on an old army parka.
The weather was cruel, the subway platform was crowded with people, littered with yesterday’s pilgrimage. He shook his hand out of his wet glove pulling the fingers off with his teeth, coffee bleeding into the grey wool. Shit. He scowled, and then seeing her, he smiled, embarrassed. The morning commute.
She was not a morning person. At 8 am, she left her apartment and trudged through the park with tea in hand, book in pocket, bag hunching her shoulders. It was a 45 minute commute if everything was working, but she had been late so many times she now allowed an extra 15 minutes. Once she hunkered into her seat, she had 45 minutes to read. You are just like your Daddy. Her Mother used to drawl. Never met a person you liked better then a book.
After she first noticed him, she saw him everyday, and began watching for him. He rode the same train she did, getting off somewhere beyond her stop. He was always reading, too. Usually big text books, with paper slipcovers to protect them. He was pale, very tall and thin, with a fineness to his face, but his fingers were thick and calloused. His collar had a hole just below his right ear, and his hair unkempt. He had a rucksack perpetually slung over his shoulder. A student. She made sure they got on the same car. He smiled shyly sometimes when he caught her watching him. She began to take more care of her appearance, smoothing her hair, standing up straighter. Humming under her breath. She knew his schedule. Generally he did not ride on Fridays, and in the summer he rode on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During the holidays he seemed to be there, too. She had to go into work once the day before Christmas, and there he was on the platform, she wanted to hug him. Knowing they were both in Brooklyn for the holidays, made her feel less isolated.
One morning she glimpsed the cover of a book he was reading-The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin. She went to the library to take it out. As she read, curled up that weekend in her room, she ran her finger under the words, words he knew, too. She thought of how she found him. The city was her- no, their wilderness.
The book told how in Australia, the aborigines sing to the land, dreamtime songs connecting themselves to the land and to one another. She saw the trajectory of her own song traversing time- back to the South, her family, the cotton plantation, and before that, the African savannahs. Sunday night she finished the story. She ran a hot bath; washed and combed her kinky hair. She dried off slowly, rubbed her skin with cocoa butter massaging her long thin legs, her small breasts. Then she laid out her favorite shirtdress, the one with the red roses and the full skirt. She hummed quietly, calling to him.
Monday she would talk to him. Maybe take his hand. Ask him all the questions she had. She imagined his face close to hers. The dull job, the drudgery of her life, the loneliness made sense, now. She barely slept, woke early to pray and dress carefully, humming.But on Monday, he was not there. She missed several trains waiting, nervously shifting her weight between her two feet, fingering her locket. All that week she waited for him, each day spending more time, later and later on the platform, later and later to work.
He never appeared.