The faces are all different and all the same. They are different in character but the same in essence; sharing the same withdrawn, unrelated, dispassionate look. Why is that? is the question that pushes into my note-taking mind. Why is that? I ask myself in my heart, testing the question to see if there was any validity in asking it out loud. I do not speak it of course because I have no one to speak it to. I am alone, surrounded by a hundred people.
I look again.
The faces have not changed even with the unspoken question; why is that?
Okay, so now the question is just irritating. Yes, it is true that the look is worn like a mask and I am pretty sure it is to protect whatever is hidden beneath it. But honestly, I am not that clever to figure out the answer. Forget about everyone else; why do I wear it? Oh, well, maybe that one is easier to answer.
I am an observer. A watcher if you prefer. I wear the mask to look like every other nobody I travel with. My clothes are bland. My hair is bland. My walk is bland. I do not look when I am being looked at. I do not speak to be spoken to. I barely exist. I am unwatched so that I may watch. Why? Arg! Again with the interrupting questions.
I do not know why. I just do it. Maybe because I can. Maybe because I want to see if I am any different. Maybe so I can ask myself these annoying questions.
What I do is really no different than what everyone else does. Have you noticed how they all work so hard at not entering into anyone else’s existence? They press against people they do not acknowledge. Their nostrils fill with the perfume of that attractive lady they pretend does not exist. They hide away behind daily papers, or drown themselves in unheard music, or lose themselves in fanciful stories they read. My book remains safe, at my side, in my satchel, in case of an emergency. I pat it to make sure it is still there. The fact is that we all try to escape in the crowd, mainly out of fear. Fear of what? Intimacy perhaps. Who can tell?
We are good at the whole hiding thing.
I saw a lady yesterday, an oriental looking woman. She was dressed nicely, had an overtly round face that looked familiar to laughter. She sat facing my direction. She looked to be watching something intently so I followed her gaze to see what had caught her attention in this manner. She was watching two young ladies in conversation directly across from her. I saw nothing of any particular interest. I looked back to her. Her gaze was still intense. I looked back to the conversation. To the woman. To the girls. The girls moved. The woman continued looking straight ahead, intensity creasing her face. It was then I saw the wires leading from her ears, disappearing into her jacket pocket. Ahhh ... she was not part of our world. She was off into the world of her heart, her mind or her soul. She had escaped. Escape is an easy thing.
Not everyone chooses to escape. I am not the only watcher you know. It is true that I watch in order to write but others watch just because it is in them to do so. They are the ones who choose to stand, seemingly doing nothing. They have no book, no music, no daily journal. They may travel with a friend or alone. They are the ones who always seem to avert their eyes as you look up feeling you were being watched. You suspect but you are not certain. Sometimes you catch them as they lose themselves in trying to figure out who you are. This is done by examining the clothes you are wearing, the book you are reading, the friends you travel with. When caught they give you a sheepish grin and then get off at the next stop to wait for the next train. It’s embarrassing to be caught.
The good watchers rely on the window reflections. A person can look right at you and never realize you are watching them. I use this method quite often with great success. Allow me to demonstrate it to you in the context of my journey.
I look around the crowded car. A little boy sits next to his mom, distracted by his toy. Short dark hair, dark eyes, well dressed. He sneezes five times. Odd. His mother smiles at him.
Behind him sits a young woman; twenty, perhaps twenty-one. Her hair has been cut short in some new style I have not seen on anyone else. It does not suit her face but I don’t think she cares. Her hair has been dyed but not in a bold manner. She is a student, probably a new one in town. She travels with her male friends but is quiet. She looks to want to disappear into another world.
A man stands pressed up to one of the doors. His hair is short, well cut with just the right amount of gel. His suit fits him well. He is out of place. Did his car break down? He keeps looking at his watch. He looks my way. Quickly I look to the floor.
I have learned a lot about shoes.
There is a short lady directly in front of me. Well, that is unfair. Most people appear short to me. She is sharing the same pole but her back is turned to me. She is wearing a nice green dress with just a slight hint of sweet perfume. If I am not mistaken I believe I had seen a cross around her neck when she got on at the last stop. I look to the window to see if my memory was correct.
My heart stops for an eternity.
She is a watcher. She is watching me. She is watching me in the window reflection.
I am shocked. Devastated. Violated. I am being watched. This is not right. I am the watcher. The shock sends a shiver through my body.
In the surprise of this revelation I have forgotten the rules; I have forgotten to turn away. My eyes are locked with hers. I am embarrassed. I feel my face turning red. It’s on fire. I feel like I have broken some unwritten rule shared by a brotherhood of strangers.
Wait a second here; she’s still looking at me. She hasn’t turned away either. She has locked her eyes with mine. She’s broken the same rule. I feel like I need to report her to someone. For a fleeting moment I think that this fact will help me. It doesn’t. I am still feeling shocked and ... well ... awkward.
I realize then that she is looking at me with a sly smile on her face, as if we shared some deep and important secret. She knows me. At least she knows what I am. And I know the same about her. Who is she? What do I do now? Do I speak to her? Would that be breaking another unwritten rule of the brotherhood of strangers? Obviously it is a sisterhood as well. Am I brave enough to even acknowledge the existence of such a thing to this woman who does not seem so much a stranger as she does family? Odd.
Before I can even figure out all the questions, let alone the answers, the doors open. Our gaze is broken. She steps through. The doors close. The train moves. She does not look back.
What just happened here?
Is this loss? Is that what this feeling is? Why?
All I know for certain is that, well, I’ve been seen. Life will never be the same again.