The guy’s been staring since the last stop, eyebrows bunched up at the center of his forehead. Mechanical grip on a book hanging at his side, titled in some jackass font: Opening up the Mind: A Guide to Controlling the something that I can’t quite make out from here. Staring with purpose. And the guy he’s staring at doesn’t seem to notice because this one’s staring at himself in the window’s reflection.
The hum and shudder of the metro halts for a sec, the doors open, people leave. Just when I think the doors are closing they jolt back open and she walks in. Chestnut hair and a purple streak. Tall as I am. Taller than I am. Eyes like folded beer bottle caps. She could sit in the empty seat but instead she grabs the same pole as me so that we’re basically together. Mind Control guy turns his furrowed face upon her, but she’s already pulling out her phone. A common trait of metro goers: pay no attention to anyone else, especially if they look like this guy looks, which in this case would be murderous or extremely constipated. And now he’s looking at me, Mind Control guy, and it’s weird because I’m already looking at him. His face flushes and his eyes dart side-to-side-to-down-to-his-feet, but then he looks back at me. His flush spreads like raspberry jam.
I’d say there are about four types of people down here in the tunnels: people reading books, people on their phones, and the lights-are-on-but-nobody’s-home sort. And I guess there’s type number four: strange folk, like Mind Control here. When I wasn’t a type one, I did my best impression of a Vacancy, which is what I’m doing now. Though if I’m gonna be completely honest, a more accurate “V” word to describe me would be Voyeur. Not like in the creepy way or anything—I just like to watch people. Especially down here in the metro.
“Eh, ____ _____ ______ __?” He says something mostly in French, I have no clue. I just shrug and he says it again, so I say “no comprende,” which just pisses him off til his face gets purple and knotted.
The metro stops. The doors open. Mind Control gives me this pleading look, like he wants me to nod in acknowledgment, like that down here strange shit goes so I won’t hold it against him that I caught him busting a brain cell at some random guy. I offer him a shrug and he splits, thank fucking Jesus.
From the corner of my eye I see a phone disappear into a handbag like a magic trick. She hasn’t budged an inch and that makes my heart thump in a nervous/excited kind of way. I pull my Vacancy face for a microsecond, then glance at her really quick. Boy is she tall. She might be cute, alright, so I glance again, and then a third time because it’s the charm. “Yes?” she says. She doesn’t smile.
I want to say something like damn, you caught me! but that might be too forward, even for down here in the tubes. This is what I come up with instead: “Nothing. What?” She laughs at that, but in almost a mean way. Embarrassment sends my eyes looking everywhere that’s not at her, the window, the flashing lights going by in the little crack under the door, the guy on the bench to my left and his ugly, ugly flip-flops, then my shoes because it’s nice to remind yourself that things could be worse. They really are decent shoes, too, and that gives me a speck of reassurance so I look back at her and she’s still looking me right in the face. It’s like one of those moments you see in some Netflix hipster flick: the rapid succession of light-shadow-light crossing her eyes, the sudden hitch deep in my innards, a subtle bump in the tracks that nudges her that-much-closer to me. Everything but the soundtrack. Feel myself perfectly balanced, like on the point of a needle, and I could stay there forever if it weren’t for some force pulling me to one side or the other. A force down here in the metro, and it’s propelling me toward her at a hundred clicks a minute.
I look at her again and smile the sweetest, most innocent smile, the corner of my mouth open just a shade so she can see the hint of teeth. And a little trick my sister taught me, the twinkle of eye—deep breath, relax, then focus and unfocus and focus again. She frowns.
Round two: playing it cool. I nod a bit, just once, a don’t-worry-I’m-decent kind of nod, and then I shrug. Casually. I am so casual. I pull out my book and look at the cover so that she can see that I like to read important things, intellectual things, Anton Chekhovian things. She glances at the book. Nothing. She must not know Chekhov.
Round three. I smile again, no, this time I smirk like I’m a bad boy and I know her darkest secrets. More teeth, less twinkle. I lick the corner of my mouth slow and sensually. I’ve got an edge, I’m a goddamned rebel. To wink or not to wink, that is the question. Whether tis nobler of the mind to seduce with slings and arrows of outrageous flirtation.
Her hand recoils from the pole. Her face struck by a lightning bolt of grimace. Grim. “Christ, buddy,” she says. “Eff off.”
Buddy buddy buddy. Never a word so full of love. And I love it—the way irritation makes the corners of her eyes furrow. How tightly drawn her lips become when she purses them, and dammit, that she got my name wrong. But for her, I would go by Buddy in a heartbeat.
I love the way her hair careens off her shoulder as she turns her back to me. And I love, most of all, the way she walks, violently out the door, the way her neck is framed in the window after the door closes behind her, a portrait of everything I’ve come to adore, that purple streak, that mean streak. And the way she disappears from view as the metro pulls away.