I left work tonight at 9:30pm. The A train (my direct route home) wasn't running on its normal route (due to construction), so I decided to take the 3 instead. Turns out the 3 wasn't running between Manhattan and Brooklyn, so I had to take the 1 to the 2, and then transfer to the 3. Needless to say, I was a bit annoyed by all this, especially as I had wanted to call my dad before it got too late, and it was definitely getting too late. Also, my phone was dead, and I'd finished my book yesterday, and I'd failed to bring an external charger OR a book to work, which was my own fault, and now I was stuck just standing on a crowded train (multiple trains) for an hour.
But something happened that made the whole hassle worthwhile.
As I stood, naturally, I looked and listened.
There was a handsome man standing near me. Very tall, very dark, and very handsome. I noticed him. I noticed his well-trimmed beard, and the interesting scar just below his right eyebrow. It was clearly a scar from stitches (there'd been three). I wondered if it was a recent injury since the shape of the stitches was so distinct. I wondered if he'd gotten in a bar fight and got punched in the face. I looked him up and down. He was dressed really nicely, and listening to name-brand earbuds. I thought, bar fight seems unlikely. I wondered what he was listening to. I wondered how he got the scar. I liked his fawn-colored leather shoes, and his flower-print socks. I wondered if the barber cut that pattern into his hair, or if that was just how it grew. I thought about how much more convenient the subway's vertical bar is for tall people.
There was a pretty woman also standing near me, a little behind the tall man. She was wearing a scarlet shade of lipstick, which I noticed and appreciated. I studied her face and her look, wondering if I could pull off the same shade of lipstick, wondering (yet again) if I should get my nose pierced (like hers), wondering if her dark brown hair was unintentionally tousled like that, or did she spend a long time arranging it just so? Was she really as pretty as she seemed, or was it mostly that she had impeccable personal style?
She was talking and laughing with a friend who wore her hair in long, dark braids — which I also admired. The friend's nose was pierced twice: once with the more conventional side-ring, and once with the more edgy bull-ring. I thought yet again how I don't really like that a middle nose ring looks like a bull ring.
The two were facing each other, with two other people facing each other sort of between them, like the four of them were standing on four sides of a rectangle (the two beautiful women being on the short sides). The women on the long sides of my imaginary rectangle were both on their phones, texting and Snapchatting. I wondered if they were all part of the same friend group or if the two on their phones had inadvertently spaced apart the two beautiful women.
One of the phone women was facing directly away from me. She had on a Fjällräven backpack with a "Planned Parenthood Stands with #ADayWithoutAWoman" pin, and a "Dismantle Trump" pin. The small lower outside zipper on her backpack was open, and I could see the tampons inside. At some point she turned more in my direction and I saw that she, too, was beautiful: racially ambiguous, but maybe part Asian and part Hispanic?
The other phone woman had blue hair, some of which fell across her face like bangs but most of which was closely shaved. She was the one Snapchatting; since she was facing me I couldn't see her phone but I could see her expressive selfies.
Eventually the two on their phones joined the others' conversation, and I could finally see that they were all four friends. I admired them all as they talked and laughed.
After awhile, I stopped paying attention. I looked up suddenly when I heard a bold "Excuse me..." The red-lipsticked woman had her hand on the tall, dark, handsome man's shoulder. He turned towards her and leaned into her touch, seeming to listen intently. She continued: "You've been staring at your phone awhile, and I think I know why you're confused. It's because you can't find my number in there."
After a beat, he laughed. She laughed with him, and said without a hint of bashfulness, "I've been working on that line for the past five minutes."
I didn't hear what he said back, but I imagine it was along the lines of, "Well then, I guess there's only one way to appropriately respond to this."
He handed her his phone, and she put in her number. The two of them started talking, and I found out she moved to the Flatbush area seven weeks ago. He didn't smile much, but his voice was warm. She smiled a lot, and her voice sounded genuine and energetic. They were asking each other questions and looking at each other appreciatively. My heart was melting.
Meanwhile, two of her friends had shifted closer to me and were discussing the situation quietly. One of them, it turned out, was a romantic while the other identified as a cynic. "I can't believe this is happening," they agreed, for different reasons. "Well, I guess that's how you make friends," said the cynic (seemingly without sarcasm).
I wondered how old they were. Early 20s, I'd guess. Probably around my age, though "around my age" is getting harder and harder to nail down.
I wondered what would happen between the lipsticked woman and the handsome man. Would they go on a few dates and then fade out from each others' lives? Would they end up life partners? Would they end up casual friends? Or deep friends?
What would have happened if he'd been in a relationship? How would he have responded? I suppose he might have laughed and said, "I'm flattered, but I'm actually in a relationship." And then she would have blushed and said, "Ah, well, worth a shot," and then pushed her way over to her friends, where she could stand with her back to him and whisper and giggle in companionship. And he'd look around, slightly embarrassed, to see if anyone had noticed the exchange, and then pulled out his phone to pretend he was busy with it.
Instead, neither of them looked around, as they were interested only in each other for those minutes I watched them. I actually interrupted their conversation as I left the train. "Sorry to interrupt," I said to the woman, "But can I ask what line you used? I'm a writer, and I want to write a short story about this. I saw you two start talking but I didn't hear what you said to start the conversation."
"How did you know that we just started talking?" She asked, moderately amazed.
Meanwhile, her blue-haired friend had shoved her way closer.
"I want to hear this, too," she said. She looked at me. "I'm her friend."
"I know," I wanted to say back. "I've been watching all of you since Chamber Street." Instead, I just nodded and turned back to the woman with the red lipstick.
She repeated her line to me, and then I stepped off the train. "Thank you," I said. I couldn't stop smiling. I literally ran home to write this. I wish I'd told her how much I liked her lipstick. And him how much I liked his socks.