Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mystery Woman

Another day in the job search, another trip into Boston to meet with a recruiter, and another journey involving an automobile (which came dangerously close to running out of fuel on the return trip), multiple subway trains and a motley cast of characters, and my own two feet, clad in fashionable footwear that proved thoroughly unsuitable for hoofing it on brick sidewalks. Oops.

The Alewife Station parking garage was quite full on my arrival and I ended up parking on the rooftop level, but the weather was nice, so it was no big deal. Inside the station it was quiet and I took advantage of the absence of a queue to feed the pay station for my parking ($7) before visiting a different machine to feed more bills to add $10 value to my MBTA fare card (“Charlie Card”). 

In contrast to Alewife, the Downtown Crossing Station where I needed to change from the Red Line to the Orange Line to head to State Street was bursting with people, many quietly interacting with their personal life-support systems (aka cell phones). Music weaved into the buzz of trains and people and ventilation systems as I descended the stairs -- slightly Celtic, sounded like a fiddle, but not quite.

When I reached the platform to await the train which the info board said would be arriving in seven minutes, I found the source of the music. An elderly Asian man was seated on a bench with an Erhu, an Asian two-stringed instrument played with a bow. The music was light and pretty. It reminded me of the time I spent in Korea. An instrument case lay open at his feet and dollar bills and assorted coins had been tossed into it. After enjoying the music for about a minute (per the train arrival countdown on the message board), I dug a dollar out of the dwindling funds in my wallet and dropped it into the case. The Musician looked up at me, said “Thank You,” and kept playing.

As I returned to the spot near the the wall that I had momentarily vacated, a  guy in tan chinos and a pastel oxford shirt standing to the left of “my place” looked at me and raised his eyebrows, which I took to be a sort of greeting. Maybe it was an acknowledgement of my contribution to the entertainment. I smiled back.

A few minutes later, a guy wearing long shorts, a tee shirt, a sideways ball cap and sneakers, and drinking a beverage from a tall can entered the scene. He paused in front of the musician and set a handful of change into the case. The musician looked up at him, said “Thank You,” and kept playing.

Suddenly, a cluster of people arrived, probably transferring from another rail line within the station. Touristy-looking families in shorts, some dragging wheeled cases, jostled alongside men in business suits and women in dresses.  Amongst them was a round elderly woman, wearing a crocheted cap that covered most of her hair and was festooned with a large rhinestone pin. Tufts of gray hair poked out of her cap near her ears. She was dressed in rusty earth tones and carrying a plastic grocery bag. I heard her before I saw her. Over the noise of the station and the music, she arrived ranting loudly to nobody in particular or maybe everyone in general. “They don’t know nothing about giving directions! Nope. Nothing about directions. They don’t know a thing.” I thought for a second that she may have been talking via Bluetooth, but there was no evidence to support that theory.

The guy standing to my left caught my eye again and raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes, as if to signal, “Uh oh, here come the crazies.” I raised my eyebrows and widened my eyes in return. “Yup.”

The lady in the cap wobbled over to the bench with the Musician. She paused in front of a woman sitting on the bench and, still muttering about directions, bent over to peer at the screen of the iPhone the woman was using. IPhone Woman didn’t acknowledge the character standing before her and gawking at her phone, she just kept tapping letters on the screen. Then Talking Woman squeezed herself into the not really wide enough vacant space between iPhone Woman and the Musician, saying quite loudly and almost angrily, “And they don’t know a thing about Tokyo Rose,” shaking her head in dramatic disbelief.  The Musician slid away from her a little bit towards the edge of the bench and kept playing.

The guy to my left did his eyebrow thing again. It seemed we were both wondering what might come next, but it didn’t seem anyone else around was watching the show.

Talking Woman, who now captured my full attention with her sudden silence, started rooting around in her plastic bag and removed a large, smooth, beautiful plum. She held it close to her face and contemplated it for a few moments. Or something. I expected her to bite into it, but instead, she tucked the plum into the crook formed by her crinkly chin and neck and held it there with her hand. Her eyes closed for a second, and when she opened them, they began to tear up and her lip quivered a bit. It looked like there was a whole lot of something major going on inside her head and maybe her heart and she was on the precipice of a good cry.

I wondered what she was thinking and feeling. She looked sad. Maybe even distraught. I suddenly wanted to hug her. I wanted to ask if she was okay. I wanted to take her picture. Everything I suddenly wanted to do to this stranger felt invasive, including my inability to stop gawking. She was too far away to speak to and approaching her might have caused a commotion.

The information board counted down the minutes to the arrival of the next train. The Musician played. The Mystery Woman held her perfect plum under her chin. I watched and wondered.

When the message board and paging system announced the arrival of the inbound train, people rose from benches and stepped away from the walls in preparation for boarding. My Mystery Woman lowered her plum from under her chin, looked at it in her hand, and stood up. She turned towards the Musician still playing his music, leaned over, and gently placed the plum in his instrument case. She did it quietly, almost lovingly. The musician said “Thank you,” and kept playing. She had tears in her eyes as she entered the crowd to board the train with the rest of us.

I lost sight of the woman in the boarding process and didn’t see her in my train car,  but I’ve been thinking about her ever since. Who is my Mystery Woman? What’s up with Tokyo Rose? Is she really sad or am I misreading her? What is the deal with the plum?

No comments:

Post a Comment