I got on the subway and opened my book. It wasn’t too crowded, and I took a seat in the middle of the bench. Across from me, and older lady was painting her nails red. She was taking up two seats to do it, and I was frankly impressed that she was able to paint her nails on a moving train.
The only other person I’d ever seen do that was my friend Trish in college when we were all heading to the City on MetroNorth to go dancing at The Bank on Houston Street and she hadn’t had time to do her nails and was actually painting them on a moving train.
The older lady noticed me looking at her and shot me a look. I felt instantly like a white lady ogling, and looked away. More people got on the train, and with a disparaging look to whoever sat down next to her, she crossed the aisle and sat next to me.
Another woman took her place, tall, broad, dressed all in black with black hair and straight cut bangs stopping a half inch above her eyebrows. She was made up pale, with dark lipstick.
The lady sitting next to me pointed out the woman’s shoes, bulky oxfords with polka-dot chiffon laces, and said they were cute. I concurred. She pointed out the lady’s hair, clothes, actually pointing with her finger. She spoke audibly about the woman’s look.
I waved my hand, and said “I’m not gonna…” and shook my head.
“I don’t mean to point,” the woman said.
“I get it, she looks cool.”
“She do,” the woman said.
I didn’t want to talk. I don’t like talking to strangers on the subway. We New Yorkers have an unrealistic expectation of privacy in public spaces, and I’d wanted to read, not chat. A fact that I thought was made apparent by my open book, and my eyes cast downward to the page. I thought about how to indicate to this woman that I wasn’t into talking.
Then I noticed her medical bracelet. And her odd clothes, costume jewelry, her flat handbag that spoke of emptiness.
“What time is it?” She asked. “I left my phone at home.”
I told her the time. I could tell she wanted to talk. I realized there was no reason, other than my preference for solitude, to not talk to her. I realized that she wanted a companion, if only for a few stops. I had my company to offer. I put away my book, my phone.
I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember we giggled. She told me her nickname, in her youth, was Golden Nugget, and that when her grandchildren got wind of that they said “Can we call you Grandma Chicken Nugget?” That’s what we giggled about.
When we got to my stop, she said “See? We got to that stop in no time, we made the time go faster.”
And I wonder who needed the gift of company, so freely given, and demanded, by Grandma Chicken Nugget.