Once a week I take the subway from my home in the ‘burbs to school downtown. It’s a trip that takes about an hour, but I like trains and I enjoy the ride – pressed into the cars with a multi-racial collection of people of all ages and gender, heavily bundled up against the wintery chill. It is a sea of black coats, wet boots, and sullen faces -most with earbuds. Some read, some doze, some just stare ahead without expression.
On the return trip, I spy a vacant seat and consider myself lucky as I sit down for the ride that will take me to the parking lot where my car awaits. It is then that I notice him – a homeless man on the seat beside me.
Dirty and unshaven, he sleeps oblivious to those around him. He is likely not as old as he looks, but he has scored a warm place to nap away the bitter cold afternoon. He smells badly, but I don’t move. We have each staked out our claim on this train.
I try to read but my attention is faltering. The homeless man has shifted in his seat and his head has begun to tilt dangerously close to my shoulder. He smells REALLY badly, but still I don’t move. I wonder how long he has been riding the train back and forth. I wonder how long he will be able to continue enjoying his warm nap before he is forced to leave.
I become aware of how odd we likely look – seat companions on this very packed train – and I feel the eyes I’m sure are watching. My exit finally arrives and I relinquish my seat. I don’t look back to see if anyone has taken my place.