On The Subway

by MW Cook

     A young Indian or Pakistani couple sits down beside me at the next stop. I know they are either Indian or Pakistani from their language. I think it is Urdu or Punjabi or something. I speak Urdu because I married a Pakistani. But I can’t understand them much. They speak too fast. And I’ve been away from Pakistan too long. The girl keeps looking at my computer as I play my game.
     I’m playing Limbo. My character is stuck at a difficult part and I keep dying.
     She turns to the man and says something. I think it’s Urdu, but I can’t understand. He laughs. They talk in low voices. The kind of voices you use when you’re talking about someone nearby. I try to understand them, but they talk too fast and low. I play in my mind what they might have been saying.
     “Ajeeb game xaylraha. Dekho, vo bar bar neechay girjata.”
     “He’s playing a strange game. Look, he just keeps falling.”
     “Han. Vo kyun computer game xalraha hai? Kya vo baccha hai?”
     “Yeah. And why is he playing a computer game anyway? Is he a child?”
     And then I could have said, “Baccha nahin hun. Bas, yeh bara dilchusp game hai. Lekin meh pusgya yahan.”
     “I’m not a child. It’s just that this game is so interesting. But I’m stuck in this part.”
     That would have been nice. But I can’t hear what they were saying. And maybe it’s not even urdu that they’re peaking. Maybe it’s Punjabi or Sindhi or one other those other languages that sounds kinda the same.
     They keep laughing at their secret joke. I get embarrassed and put my computer away. I take out my book to read.
     The Indian couple gets off at the next stop. I miss them. They seemed happy. I wish I was on a bus. That way I could have called my wife and spoken Urdu to her in front of them. Then they would have probably talked to me. It’s not everyday you meet a white guy who speaks Urdu, after all. But everyone knows there’s no cell signal underground. Maybe if we were at Islington where the train gets above ground…
     A pretty blonde girl sits beside me when we stop at Younge. The train is crowded. I never mind when it’s crowded. Even when I have to stand. It’s nice being around so many people. It’s powerful. She sits really close to me because of the large man beside her. My arm touches hers. She brushes against me every time she takes a drink of her coffee. She never looks at me.
     Why is she drinking coffee so late at night? Maybe she works nights like I do. She doesn’t look like that kind of person, though. She looks young and well-off. You don’t choose nights if you’re well-off. Unless she’s a doctor or something. I think they work at night. They’d have to. What if someone got hurt at night? But she doesn’t look overworked, and I hear doctors work a lot. Maybe she’s a student, working nights to help pay for her tuition. I will still be doing nights when I start at U of T. I can do most of my homework and reading at work.
     The large man shifts in his seat. I’ve seen people do that trick when they sit beside people who look nice. You move a bit and pretend not to notice that you’re touching the person next to you. But the pretty girl notices, so she shifts in her seat. Now she’s crowding me. I don’t mind. I don’t mind crowds. Even before I lived in Pakistan I never minded crowds. Crowds are powerful.
     The large man and the pretty girl get off at Dufferin. Most people are off the train, now. I have the bench to myself. I don’t really mind that much, either. I take my computer back out. I try playing Limbo again for a while. My character, a silhouetted little boy, stands on the roof, looking out at the grey cityscape. He can’t go backward. And to go forward puts him on a steep stope that he slips down. I make him jump before he falls off the edge, but there’s nothing for him to land on, and he dies. I try again. I jump further this time. As far as he can go. He hits the spinning saw and is torn apart. I try again, this time I don’t jump. I just let him fall. And he dies. If I make him try his best he is torn apart by the saw. If I let him slip, he hits the ground and dies. In the end, is one death better than the other? I’m the only one watching to judge.
     The man across from me keeps staring. He doesn’t look happy. Happy people are more powerful than sad people. But he’s not sad. He looks annoyed. Or angry. Some angry people are powerful. The happy angry people. But his mouth says that he’s rarely happy. I wonder what kind of life he has, that makes him want to scowl at passengers on the subway. I wonder why he scowls at me. Some people don’t like it when you use a computer in public. Or maybe he doesn’t like my hair. I once had a man spit on me because he didn’t like my hair. Or maybe he was just crazy.
     (Can you be just crazy?)
     It was at Pape Station, where the man spat on me. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked at him. He glared back at me, as if I had called him a dirty name. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. When you don’t know what you should do, it’s usually best to just keep quiet and watch. So I turned and got on my bus.
     But this man across from me isn’t spitting on me, so that’s easy. I could look up and smile at him, but angry people don’t like smiles. Angry people don’t like anything. Unless they’re happy angry people. Then they like change. Then they like action.
     I was a happy angry person once. I still am, sometimes. Though mostly I’m just happy. At least when I’m not working. It’s hard to be happy or angry when you work all alone and at night. Because it takes energy to be happy or angry. And energy comes from people. That’s why I like crowds. But when there is no energy, you mostly are just sad. It doesn’t take any energy to be sad. Sad is the easiest.
     Does that mean sad is the natural state?
     No. Because we naturally have energy. So being angry or happy or both is more natural.
     The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Preachers say that means you shouldn’t go to bed mad. I think it means you should always stay mad. And not let the sun set on it. Not let its sun go down. Not a dark anger. A shining one, because you’re not letting the sun set on it. The kind of anger that burns against the things that make darkness. The kind of anger that you can hold and still be happy.
     We arrive at Kipling. The doors open. I sling my satchel over my shoulder and get off.