I was sitting on the 1 train, going down to Canal street, reading, when someone tapped my knee. I looked up from my book. There was a tiny girl standing in front of me. She said, “What’s your name?”
I said, “Kate.”
She said, “It’s Kate?”
I said, “That’s right. What’s yours?”
She told me. I said, “That’s pretty,” even though I hadn’t quite understood her.
She said, “How old are you?”
I said, “Twenty-four, how old are you?”
I said, “Wow, five!”
She said, “Do you like my earrings?”
They were pink flowers. I liked them. She was dressed up. A black sequined jacket and matching shoes. A poufy gray tutu skirt. Clear beads in her hair.
“Are you going somewhere special?” I asked.
“Mmhmm. Shantay’s birthday party. She’s only three.” She held up three fingers and then stretched up and pushed my hair aside, whispering into my ear, “Mommy told me Shantay is my cousin.”
“Oh, really!” I said. “Your cousin!”
This was serious.
“Mommy,” she said, turning to the woman who sat across from me. “You said Shantay is my cousin, right?”
“That’s right.” Her mother had a calm, easy look. She was not troubled by her daughter talking to strangers on the train. She was watching her, but without anxiety. She didn’t call to her daughter, “Stop that! Sit back down over here!” and then make “I’m SO sorry!” eyes at me while shaking her head. She just let the girl be.
The girl sat down next to me. We passed Penn Station. “Where are those people going?” she asked me, pointing at some people with suitcases.
“Maybe somewhere far away,” I said. “Where do you think?”
“Will they take a bus?” She jumped down and went over to her mother. “Will they take a bus?”
“They might,” said her mother. “There are different ways to get to New Jersey. They might take a train, too.”
“Or they could drive,” I said.
The girl came back over to me. “My shirt has a butterfly on it,” she informed me. She unzipped the jacket a little, to show me.
(What could be better? source)
“That’s great,” I said. “You’re very sparkly.”
“I love sparkles,” she said.
She was sorry when we got to my stop. She watched me go. I said, “Have fun at the birthday party!”
I walked out into the rain, suddenly happy. It’s strange, to have such an earnest conversation with someone you meet on a train. My exchanges on the elevator with people always go like, “Hi.”
Or, “Cold out there.”
We never know what to say to each other. A friend told me the story of a relative who came to the city because she “wanted to meet people.” After four years or so, she left, depressed. So many people, so little connection between them. I talk to people a lot. I love those conversations that only last 30 seconds. A woman once followed me out of a store and said, “I saw you trying on belts. You should go to Filene’s Basement. My niece is your size, and she got a great one there.”
There are these little moments where people collide in sweet ways. But for the most part, of course, we know better. Or it’s not worth it. Or we’re just trying to get where we’re going.
But the girl on the train in the sparkly jacket was going to the birthday party of her three-year-old cousin Shantay, she looked fancy and great, and she knew that all of that was well worth sharing. I couldn’t have agreed more.
* * *
Un-roast: Today I love how I can tell myself when I think I look amazing. I can’t tell the world, like the girl, but I can say to myself, “Wow, you look really beautiful!” And then I say back, “Yes, I do!” Sometimes I say this when Bear’s around, and then he says, “Yes, you do!”
P.S. My cousin Sam is on the radio a lot. He recorded a piece for his station of his girlfriend teaching him how to make Arroz Caldo (a delicious chicken and rice soup), and the cooking lesson is adorable and incredibly fun. Check it out on his blog here!
P.P.S. New post on Un-schooled, about grades, and how random they are.