He stepped quietly onto the bustling train, steps that seemed gentle and carefully placed, but never hesitant. They carried the weight of his tall lanky frame, leading him to one of the plastic seats that lined the walls. Elbow length and starkly black, his dreadlocks coursed down his back and formed rivers diverting around the giant headphones slipped over his ears. He set down his backpack on the floor and pulled out a battered, gold paperback I couldn’t quite see the name of.
He was a mess of contradictions. His thick ratty hair was lying next to a well-fitting tan corduroy blazer and a burgundy sweater. Paired with his slim khakis, he looked surprisingly professional, almost exactly the way a fashion magazine would have dressed him for the fall season. Dark tattoos peeking slightly out of those buttoned sleeves hinted at body entirely inked with thoughtfully chosen designs.
Between the headphones still settled on that mass of hair and his slim book, he easily slipped into his own world beneath the brightly artificial light of the L3 train. His eyes glanced up occasionally to check platform names and returned easily to his paperback.
All the sudden, I am in admiration of him. The aura that he carries is nowhere near boastful enough to be labeled “confidence.” It was more a calm, unquestionable tranquility. It had not been learned or created, but rather hung loosely upon his shoulders with well-known weight that suggested he had never existed without its company.
He was a man who had selected decisively from among the buffet of social norms he decided to recognize. His dreadlocks, undoubtedly taking years to grow to such an extreme length, whispered rebellion, a fondness for hard rock, and long, forever growing reading list. At the same time, his quality leather dress shoes told me that he visits his parents often and never forgets birthdays.
In that moment I fell a little bit in love with the stranger on the train across from me. It was not the type of realization that clicked “play” on a sudden slideshow in my head of our imaginary love life together. No, just a slow admiration to be able to peer into such a well-lived life for the length of six metro stops, and that seeing this alone could astound me.
He never spoke, never put his book down, never even glanced in my direction. The doors swung open; as small smile played around my lips as I turned and stepped off the train.