The Subway

L. Rehfuss

© Copyright 2014 by  L. Rehfuss   


Photo of a subway token.

It's 5:55pm, and he's where he has stood every night since I started taking the subway one year ago. His job is to watch tokens enter a small machine in front of him or glance at monthly subway passes being flashed before his eyes. The purpose for this seemingly tedious assignment is to move people through the turnstiles quickly.

I smile and say hello, as I have every night for a year.

If he responds, it seems to be merely as an afterthought.  A reflex reaction, if you will.

He just can't seem to find it in himself to talk to anyone who is not beautiful.

I've seen him go out of his way to say "Hello" to a woman who barely gives him notice. On one occasion, I gave him a hearty, robust "Good day", only to have him reach across and grab the arm of a beautiful woman he had his eye on. "How ya doing?" he says. Her response, a rather cold "Fine," tells me all I need to know.

He has never engaged me in conversation. And it's not as if a long, spirited discussion would take place should he return my greeting. I'm not looking for a long-term commitment, friendship or a promise that we'll greet each other warmly every day. The only thing I'm looking for is a simple acknowledgment from one human being to another.

But he can't provide it.

I don't fit his requirement.

When I made this realization, I put him to the test a little more vigorously than usual and each time came up empty.

Each time I'd walk away from the turnstile with a little less appreciation for mankind and a lot more critical view of my physical self. Why his manner caused me to address my image problem is beyond me, but I think there are some women out there who would understand.

Would you explain it to me?  Could you put it into words?  Really.

Is it the girl in me who once was noticed?

The lonely self who witnesses another act of isolation?

Or is it the common courtesy radar that can't fathom this ill regard?

I went through the stage of "Why does this matter to me?"

And then thought,  "This is so silly,"

And finally just forgot about it, which is the preferred position to take.

His behavior only came to mind this morning as I entered the grocery store.

A young, beautiful woman was coming out. Six men lining the park bench located three feet from the door started whistling, making wolf noises and trying to engage her in conversation.

I walked by, the invisible woman.

A sense of relief filled me, and an empathetic vibe went her way. She didn't take note of these men and passed on by. Me? I went through the door and wondered how any one of them could possibly think she would happily stop and talk to them.

I then thought of the subway guy.

Possibly his after work world finds him sitting outside the grocery store with his buddies ogling and cooing the beautiful women who honor him in passage.

So why would I care that each day he continues to ignore my "Good day?" And why should I bother to provide such a greeting? It might be that a trigger mechanism kicks in. I see any person within a certain radius, especially someone I see daily, and the need to greet this individual with a certain molecule of respect and good cheer is in order.

Is that why I swallow my hurt and continue to greet this man?  A simple person-to-person, human-to-human contact?

I realize that my anger at his rude behavior and obvious lack of courtesy is simply a ruse for the hurt I feel over the acknowledgment that I'm not beautiful.

Yet I need to remember that there is nothing being sought and, I must remind myself that there is nothing being gained or lost.

It is just a “Hey, there, I see you and wish you well."

You may treat me like the invisible woman, but I will not, and do not, step quietly through your world.

Good day.

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