On Metros and Railways:
Riding the RER and metro for the one hour commute between Rueil-Malmaison and the Alliance Francaise allows a person the type of quiet self-reflecting and reminiscing that usually comes only on sleepless nights as we stare at the ceiling sighing heavy sighs.
It is also a perfect opportunity to people watch and wonder if they too feel sometimes as confused and lost as to what are the answers to life’s great questions.
With ear buds jammed in your ears listening to whatever haphazard playlist on shuffle – ranging between Billie Holiday, shoegaze, and Top 40s – and the scenery flickering by you try your hardest not to brush your knees against the stranger who just sat down across from you juggling many plastic bags, in the sort of forced awkwardness that comes between the tight seating arrangements of the Parisian public transportation system, you sit and you wait for the train to pull up to your stop.
You may look up across to the person sitting across from you and pull a tight smile, looking away in the next moment – for it’s awkward to stare with barley a foot between you two.
I like to make up stories about the people you see flitting through you life on the rail way system.
I watch the way that the college kids sigh, tired from the day and the careless way they clutch their bags, or the way that the couple sits quietly with their fingers interlaced. I watch the boy with the shortly cropped hair and pants that hang a little too loose and his over sized headphones bopping his head and Air Jordans along to the beat, mouthing the words to the song. I watch the little girl – no more than 4 years – clinging tightly to her mother, wide-eyed, and the baby sitter wiping the dribble and snot off the babie’s lips. Finally I see the girls step in the light bouncing off their earrings, short dresses, and freshly painted nails, as they carefully step onto the metro the curls in their hair bouncing with each step.
I wonder who they are and where they are going. In a world of 7 billion it is incredible to me that there can be so much foot traffic even at as light an hour as 2 am on the Paris metro railway system. I wonder – Do they love their mothers? Do they have someone to come home to? Did they graduate high school? College? Are they happy with their jobs? Are they running against the clock, late to an appointment, or are they going at a leisurely pace towards their destination?
I watch the way that their glasses have slipped a little too far down their nose, or the place where in the morning his razor just missed, or the way that she leans heavily against the windowpane, eyes closed. Simply watch the people around me going in a million different directions never to meet again, yet for a singular moment our histories did cross no matter how small and removed the stranger may be.
I wonder if they too watch me, bundled up tight in many layers that make me look somewhat puffy, in a valiant attempt against the winter cold that somehow still managed seeps into my bones, as my cheeks are red and ears ache.
But I look at the strangers both looking and not looking at once, until sometimes they feel my gaze trained on them and then they look up. Eyes meet and I know I’ve been caught. I could try to avert my gaze quick as a whip, somewhat embarrassed at being seen; but sometimes I let myself to watch them watch me, and a quirked eyebrow is the entire interaction of the mild curiosity of people in general, before the stare becomes too intense and one of us has to look away.
But as the train starts to slow down there is the usual scuffle and clearing of throats and pacing towards the doors, waiting to be released and the moment passes. Some people step out, and new ones step in; most get a quick scan before I settle on the favorites, conjuring up images of lives these people don’t have.
Eventually my stop pulls up and I squeeze my way out from the window seat towards the manual release door away from the people, towards my own destination.