Metro Moments: Weekend Delays Edition

Monday, January 21, 2008
Your fingers were stained with either ink or oil. If it was ink, it was not the stains that etch into my fingertips of into the writer's callus on the left side of the middle finger of my right hand. It was not the ink of newsprint or of ball point pens. The dark stains on your wide, dried, and cracked fingers noted the surety of someone who struggles with English but could get my printer or copy machine to work again. Or, though you did not smell of oil, it could have been something more mechanical -- an escalator, a car.

Because the metro was single tracking -- sending all the Wizards fans into a frenzy on the wrong side of the tracks, bunched up together as if only the front car would send them in the right direction, and causing the reluctant New Yorker in me to surface angrily--you asked me, uncertain in your accent and in your maps if we were headed to Bethesda. And because I can never remember which way which parts of Maryland are, I said I wasn't sure, and pulled my book out of my bag. I repeated the next stop--Farragut North--and you nodded, now sure again.

I didn't hear you the first time you asked.
"Is that a novel?"

I kept reading, and moved my leg away from yours. We were both cramped by my shopping bags.

"Is that a novel?"

I was sure that reading was the universal sign for I don't want to talk on the subway.

"Is that a novel?"

It seems my surety was unfounded.

"Is it good?"

I finger the pages -- two chapters left, and I am gasping, holding back tears, and laughing out loud on the metro, though quietly. Can't he tell by the way I read that I think it's good? Does the way I read, noisily like that invite questions, conversations.

"What's it called?"

You grip my pages and close the book on my fingers -- that is when I notice how wide your own fingers are--so you can read the title, more confidently than your accent would suggest.

"The Book Borrower. It's a good novel?"
"Yes." I reclaim my place in my book, and try to go back to reading.

I was furious with Mr. Arthur. He missed opportunities to object. He was unclear. I could hardly sit still in my seat, hardly keep from jumping up to explain things to the jury, who gradually took on a personality...

"I can't speak English well, but I can...." you motion, writing with your left finger on your right palm. "And read," you add. You put one of your fingers on the page opposite the one I am reading and slowly and full of accent, sounding out the syllables in "sketching" read:

"What were you sketching, Miss Lipkin?"

I nod, trying to invoke my New York subway rules in a place which has eschewed all those rules.

And I realize, that if I were a few more pages ahead, if I could have finished the book before my stop, I would have had to give it to you. With a name like The Book Borrower, would I have had any other choice? I am relieved that you have not moved your leg back against mine, that you do not seem to be asking me for admiration. Only respect, only acknowledgment. Of that, you have my fullest.

Before I can decide if I can finish the book, if you would understand let alone enjoy it, before I can even show you the respect that has cracked through my false New York subway pride, it is my stop, and I slip my finger in my book, you get out of your seat for me, and I do not look back.

0 Responses to 'Metro Moments: Weekend Delays Edition'

Search This Blog

Contact Me

Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

I have left my real name off of the blog so as not to imply that the blog is somehow linked with the journalism I get paid to do. (Still, I never write about my beat on this blog, and rarely express opinions about the day's news regardless of its relationship to my beat).

I would love to hear from you. If you want to contact me directly rather than leaving a comment here, I can be reached at

Blog Archive

Books pyramid image originally from the British website, Explore Writing.