Write Yourself Alive: Day Seven – The Commute

Today’s Prompt: Go somewhere public. With notebook or laptop, write a full description of the first 10 people you see as if you were introducing them as characters in a book. Show us them, describe them as if they are going to be instrumental into your story.

Packed like sardines on the skytrain a few weeks ago.
Packed like sardines on the skytrain a few weeks ago.

Nine People On The SkyTrain Today, and One That’s There Daily

One. She hogs two seats on the SkyTrain – one for herself, one for her shopping bags. No one dares approach to take the unoccupied space, however. Why? Her RBF, of course. That, and each of her long, slender fingers are adorned with stacks of garish rings; I’m certain that if she ever got into a fight (and she wouldn’t, of course, because she’s far too frou frou for that), she’d already be armed with her very own brass knuckles. To tie the look together, her newsboy cap (which hides her silver pixie haircut), leather jacket, maxi skirt, and boots are all the same shade of crimson – yes, crimson – as her lipstick (Google MAC’s Ruby Woo and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about). The crow’s feet by her eyes and the lines etched into her cheeks tell me she’s lived (experienced? put up with?) an interesting life, and now’s her chance to be free. You’ve more than earned the two seats on the SkyTrain, lady. I’ll leave you be.

Two. He’s eighteen and the world is his oyster. He’s got a full courseload at UBC, a bright future ahead of him, and parents that support him financially. Naturally, this means that his Gold Beats by Dre headphones are blasting from his iPhone 6+, letting the whole train car hear that this six foot-something, two hundred pound young man is really headbashing to a playlist which includes The Bee Gees and Shakira. This also means that his Herschel backpack sticks out like an overpriced turtleshell on his back, and rather than taking it off like the rest of us peasants, it continues to take up the space that two other people could’ve occupied. But hey, he (read: his parents) paid good money for that bag, and for the laptop that rests within. You can’t put that stuff on the floor, can you?

Three. She’s holding a venti cup in a French manicured hand, and by the way she trembles, it’s probably not her first cup of the day (or maybe there’s just five shots of espresso in there). She stands by the doors that slide open and closed, never budging, even as others pile in and try to push past. The French twist she so painstakingly put up before leaving the house is slowing falling apart, her mascara’s flicked up against her eyelid, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that she’s sloshed some coffee onto her beige pant leg. She sighs, clearly frustrated, every half-minute or so, both from the man who’s unpleasantly gawking at her, and also (I’m guessing) because she’s regretting the concept of commuting in stiletto heels. Oh well. There’s always tomorrow.

Four. She runs up to the platform and hops on the train with barely a second to spare, and she’s a stark contrast to the lady prior. I would blame the windswept look on her run, but closer inspection leads me to realise that it isn’t au naturel that she’s going for, it’s more I just rolled out of bed and I’m late as hell so this is as good as it gets. Her clothes are wrinkled, her parka has an odd smell of damp, and I’m 90% sure I caught a glimpse of mismatched socks. In hindsight, I’m sure she realised her natural look wasn’t very good at all. Venti cup lady makes a tsk noise when she looks over, but this woman takes no notice… she’s too pleased with not getting the train door shut in her face.

Five. He’s clocked out of the office, but he spends the entire commute home checking work emails on his gargantuan phone (whose price tag is eclipsed only by the tailored suit he’s currently wearing). Just past Nanaimo station, he starts a phone call. It’s long distance to a colleague in Palermo and he’s relieved to have caught him awake at such a late hour. They exchange pleasantries amidst the rush hour cacophony, but instead of adding to it, I find myself pleasantly surprised when I hear the lilting, soothing rise and fall of his fluent Italian. By the time we hit Metrotown, he’s speaking so fast that I can’t keep up to make out the words, and I bet the ticking second hand of his Rolex can’t either. Don’t get me wrong, though. As beautiful as it all sounds, he’s still a prat for having a 20 minute loud conversation on the train.

Six. I recognize her as soon as she sits next to me. She keeps glancing over every few seconds, waiting for me to look back. It just so happened that I moved when when she did, and I know. I’m done for. Screwed. Stuck. She strikes up a conversation with me on that rush hour train, just like she’s wanted to since we both took our seats at Granville. Chatty Cathy obviously has news she’s itching to tell anyone who’ll listen, and I happen to be at the right (wrong) place at the right (wrong) time. My one-word responses aren’t a strong enough hint to her; even as she picks away at the (deliberately placed) hole in her jeans, she keeps talking and talking and talking and chewing gum and chewing gum and chewing gum. Soon, I find myself divulging a somewhat fictional, semi-embellished story of my background, who I am, and what I do. Call me paranoid, call me dishonest, but there’s something slightly off here – her hazel eyes have the clear I’m up to no good look in them, and I just want to be safe. She says, “See you around!” as she gets off at Joyce, and when the doors shut and the train carries on, I silently mouth, “I hope not.”

Seven. Stale cigarettes. Pot. Bad cologne. The heady aroma of all three is enough to make me sick to my stomach, and I am fortunate enough to have a walking ashtray of all things smokeable step into our train car for several minutes. His denim jacket looks worn – almost (ALMOST!) in a cool way, but instead its frayed edges and distinct odour instead gives away that it (and its wearer) have just taken a break from, well, y’know, washing up. He has a beautiful tattoo sleeve on his right arm – abstract art and lines and shapes, and a few words that I couldn’t make out from where I sat. I imagine he’s part of a badass secret society, whose symbols and, well, secrets, are inscribed on his skin, and I laugh a little, because he looks so baked that I bet he’d have believed me if I told him so.

Eight. It’s all about the little details. He wears a smart dress shirt, slacks, and these beautiful chestnut brown leather dress loafers. His scruff is trimmed neatly, he carries a nice briefcase, and he looks every bit the young professional. Smooth? Sure. Potential? You bet. But his shirt is wrinkled, his slacks don’t match with it, and worst of all, his shoes are covered in mud and grass trimmings. If this is his best foot forward, then it’s one of the worst best feet I’ve seen. Even still, he walks up to the bus with swagger, strolls on like he owns it, and carries himself with such unbelievable arrogance. I’m not fooled. His presence and toothy smile is a façade, and his attention to detail, or lack of it, is an absolute crying shame.

Nine. He’s red in the face, there’s dribble on his shirt, and he’s bawling while the rest of us commuters turn the other way. Instead of being soothed, of course, this poor toddler gets hissed at by his caretaker and threatened with a spanking. The words sink in and put the fear of God into him for a good few minutes, but that peace and quiet doesn’t last very long after that. I smile at him when he makes eye contact with me, and there’s something so very magical with the way he lights up. My heart breaks then and there; I wish that more people would smile at him on a regular basis. He seems to be in better spirits when they alight at Royal Oak, giggling and clapping, and it leaves me wondering how adults can regain the power to bounce back from misery as quick as the young do.

Ten. She can take the train with her eyes closed, at this point. Everything runs like clockwork (most of the time), she can gauge where to stand to enter the train’s sliding doors. On Fridays, the bus driver is always three minutes earlier than the rest of the week; she thinks he probably wants to get Friday over with as much as she does. It’s an hour and a half every day, each way, for her to get to and from work. Some days run smooth, but on days when she needs to get from Point A to Point B the quickest, something usually breaks down. Of course. Naturally. Even still, she’s grateful for transit. She can read a book, watch the homes and cars and trees go by, and sit in (relative) comfort without worrying about gas, insurance, or parking. Her name is Jen, she’s sure that she’s been people-watched too, and she wonders what others write about her.

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