Monday, December 19, 2011
Half asleep, I shuffled onto the uptown 1 train to head home. The crowds of people with their holiday shopping bags took me by surprise. Was it that time of the year again? As the doors opened to let passengers off at the next stop, a seat near the door became available. In anticipation of a good nap, I quickly claimed it. Instantly I felt all of my muscles relax upon sitting down. I closed my eyes for a few minutes and thought about how odd it was that I could take a nap in the midst of total strangers who were looming over me. The train stopped and the doors opened again to let on the next crowd. A short attractive woman holding a toddler walked on. She looked a lot like one of my professors who was from India. I stood up and leaned towards her. 'Would you like to sit down?' She nodded as if it was the only civilized thing I could have asked her, and thanked me politely. She was well-dressed, and cooing to her child softly. The angular mousy-blonde woman sitting next to her was intently reading her book, arms stiffly guarding her space. Someone stepped in front of me and obscured a clear view of the action to come. I heard the toddler vocalizing excitedly. I saw blondie protecting her space. 'Your child is kicking me', she said in a controlled voice. I saw her long arms exert halting little movements towards the Indian woman, which I imagined were attempts at corraling the child's unweildy legs back into his mother's lap. 'He's only a child, he can't help himself', I heard the mother defend. Her face was clearly visible to me, and she held a broad, confident smile that was turning into condescension. Blondie continued guarding her territory.'His legs are kicking me, keep them under control.' The mother responded instantly with the same crinkly-eyed smile, 'Oh, you obviously will never be a mother, or never a good mother, anyway, that's for sure.' The mother started laughing, and before Blondie could respond, a heavy woman on her other side offered to switch seats with her. The new arrangement was quickly implemented. The mother suddenly burst into tears. A seat opened up on her other side and a man was walking towards her with a look of concern. He sat down next to her and asked her what had happened. She answered in between quiet, heaving sobs, 'I was so upset, I said something I wouldn't normally say. Why was she so mean?' They talked in hushed tones as the toddler calmed down and stopped kicking. I didn't feel sorry for the mother, though she was clearly vulnerable and full of self-doubt. I felt sorry for the crazy book reader. People were now glaring at her and whispering about how horrible it was to treat an innocent baby like that. Some were even doing double takes to record her image, lest she be caught in future tussles with babies on subways. Had this incident taken place in the car adjacent to this one, she may have been supported by like-minded adults in favor of preserving kick-free seating zones. There probably is something wrong with me, I thought as I reflected on my utter fascination with scenarios that involved very uncomfortable verbal conflicts among strangers. Calm was restored, as the mother and her male counterpart now spoke in voices which were inaudible. If the emotions of the incident were still on their tongues, it was impossible to detect from their facial expressions. They could well have been discussing what silverware to use for their Sunday brunch in the Hamptons. Blondie got up at the next stop, and with little fanfare, exited the train. No parting advise on how to raise children with urban sensibilities. Another day on the 1 train, and no one lost an eye.
Posted by Tamar at 6:53 PM