The train slowed suddenly. The sound of the screeching brakes and shuffling of passengers filled the air for a brief moment before the hiss of the opening doors overtook it. A monotone pulse and electronic voice announced two street names.
The woman seated across the aisle from me looked at the phone in her hand, as she tried to make sense of the electronic voice. She arose suddenly, realizing it was her stop, and tried to make her way out. Pushing her way against the current of oncoming passengers, the tone sounded again.
“Please stand clear of the doors.”
As she watched the doors shut, she tried to sit again, only to notice her seat was now occupied by a woman whose arms were carrying plastic tubes, blueprints maybe. As the train lurched forward, she reached for a pole. Her hand missed, and she lost her balance, stumbled for two steps, and tripped over a briefcase.
Her hand went to the window above the seated passengers, above my head where it kept her from falling completely, and she leaned against it, trying to right herself against the momentum of the accelerating train.
“Sorry… So sorry,” she uttered, but as the train took the curve, she couldn’t maintain her balance and ended up leaning against me.
“Oh shit,” she muttered, “I… I’m so sorry,” she said to me.
She turned from frustrated to horrified as she realized her balance relied on her left breast resting directly against my face. The train screeched again, and the moment the train came to a rest, she stood back up. The doors hissed. She exited, looking in any direction that wasn’t mine.
I stood and exited too, managing to stay along the edge of the entering passengers, and slipping out by the edge of the doors just before they closed. Monday mornings were the busiest. I walked forward, entering the stream of commuters and moving toward the escalators.
The escalator crawled along and shook periodically from side to side under the combined weight of the commuters. The street came slowly into view. The woman who had missed her stop was standing several feet away by the curb, looking at her phone, then looking up at a street sign, then looking back at her phone again. Her eyes looked toward the station entrance, toward the mess of quiet business casual, and she donned the same look of frustration from earlier.
Standing several feet away, I said, just loud enough for her to hear above the din of the traffic,
“I know, who’d want to go back into that mess.”
She looked up, scanning the crowd to identify the speaker of the comment. I spoke up as I walked closer,
“Over here. Hi…” We met eyes. “You can hardly get to where you’re going without getting a breast shoved in your face, it’s so crowded.”
She let out a short laugh before turning red, rolling her eyes, and saying, half to herself,
I laughed and said, “No, it’s okay, I just thought you might be lost.”
“I’m okay. Really. Thank you. I just need to get back one station,” she said.
“It might be faster to walk right now, if it’s just the one station. You sometimes have to wait a train or two at this time of day. What time to you have to get to where you’re going?” I asked.
She stood, head tilted, and considered my comment. Her lips pursed briefly.
“I’ll walk you down there,” I offered, “it’s only a short bit out of my way.”
“Yeah. Sure. Okay,” she said, “…thank you.”
“This way,” I said, pointing with a head movement down the street.
“Thanks,” she said again.
“It’s nothing,” I said, as we started walking, “so, I take it you’re not from here.”
“I’m from Charlotte,” she said, “I just moved here a week ago.”
“Thank you,” she said.
I was wearing jeans, a patterned button down with a useless pocket on the chest, and black and white athletic shoes with a bag slung over one shoulder. Quickly scanning me from top to bottom, she asked me where I was going.
“There’s a parking garage up the hill just a few blocks up Polk Street,” I said.
“You work at a parking garage?” She asked.
I chuckled, “no, I’m not going to work, I’m going to film from there. The top deck is several stories up and it has no roof. Great view from up there.”
“Film what?” she asked.
“Film the sky,” I said, “the sun, the clouds, and… the sky.”
“Uh, wha… what for?” she asked.
“That’s a… hmm… well, the world is changing, and you can see it in the sky,” I said.
She stopped, looked upward, and pursed her lips in a look of slight confusion.
The woman striding behind us bumped into her, walking past, sending her in stutter steps toward me. Our collision pushed us against a building, somewhat out of the way of the foot traffic. I put my hands up, preventing her from falling and cushioning the impact.
“Good lord!” she exclaimed. She added “where I’m from, we say ‘excuse me’ after body- checking fellow pedestrians.”
“Cultures, right? I mean, here for example women like to exchange names before they throw their breasts at a man.” I grinned, pointing with my eyes downward.
She looked down, saw my hands against her chest, looked up at me, and blushed.
“Can I buy you a drink first?” I asked. I felt her nipples poking softly through the fabric of her blouse against my palms before she stood upright.
“May…” she said.
“Okay… May I buy you a drink first?” I asked.
She laughed nervously, “I meant… May. My name is May, and I am completely embarrassed.”
I laughed loudly, my amusement was obvious, “well, I’m charmed May, but I think you rather enjoyed that. I’m Ken, by the way.”
“Ken. Hi. Your hands were warm, I guess…” May looked at my hands and commented absentmindedly, “…you’ve got nice hands.”
“Oh? I would’ve guessed they were cold, the way you reacted,” I said, letting my eyes drift slowly downward. As she realized my meaning, her lips parted slightly, preparing to speak words that her mind scrambled to retrieve. I watched her nipples become more prominent as she blushed again.
“And you’ve got nice…” I said, pausing to stare for effect, “nice manners.” I said.
She had a coy tone and replied, “Do I? Nice manners?” I had caught her playful side.
“Oh yes, they’re very welcoming… I enjoy a nice set of manners on a woman.”
She suppressed a smile and pointed her finger at me, “you…”
We resumed our walk. The smell of coffee wafted out onto the street from the cafes. After a few minutes, I broke the silence,
“You never told me what time you had to be at work.”
“I don’t, today’s my dry run. I was trying to get familiar with my route. I start tomorrow.”