By Steve Anwyll
On the platform an old woman sells churros and other fried foods from a cart. I eye them as we hurry. I’m hungry but not. A clear plastic sack of little wagon wheels intrigues me. Announced by the breeze our train comes roaring into the station. We get on.
Lindsey and I sit close. Black denim pant legs touch. Her head leans against my shoulder and I rest mine on hers. Perfect fit. Full colour ads of smiling idiots holding diplomas in the sky and dating apps promising a love halal compete for my attention. The noise of it hurts. So I eye the man across from me.
Big and fat. Dark blue cargo pants covered in grey dust. The name of a building company screen printed over his heart. A reminder this is my last day in town. By midnight I’ll be on a bus headed away from all my friends and a woman who makes me feel like a man. By Monday I’ll be back at a machine printing on shirts for men like him to get dirty in.
Why can’t I be free?
Backpack between his wide open legs his gut hangs over his crotch. I stare as he stuffs his mouth full of the wagon wheels I saw the old woman peddling. Over the clamour of the train on the tracks I hear a crunch. Lindsey and I just came from a taqueria we’ve been to so often we call it our place. I ate carnitas and barbacoa and lengua to the point of discomfort. But still.
Her and I chat as the train heads into Manhattan. It’s easy to forget where I am though. Subway or the Metro. Brooklyn or Montréal. People trying to get home. Back to the bed they woke up in. All of them thinking of hot showers and a reprieve from the din of being awake. Looking through a crowd and seeing we’re all going the same place in different ways I remember, I’m a part of the whole.
So I renounce my individuality as I put my hand on her thigh, squeeze. She lifts her head and smiles. I wink to hide the deep down dread I feel. Of going home. Me and my apartment and no one to call. The few friends I have remind me of a life I no longer belong to. If it wasn’t for an international border I’d stay.
Call the landlord on Monday.
The fat man across from me nudges his friend who’s equally as plump. Shakes the bag of wagon wheels at him. The eyes of his friend are laconic as he paws a few out. Like a pervert in the bushes I watch him incognito. I gain pleasure from seeing him chew. Same as the creep in the shadows caressing himself I wonder, how long can I control my urges?
Lindsey breaks my trance as she asks what time does your bus leave? I remind her it pulls out of the station at one past midnight. I watch her cute face cringe and my heart cracks in two. The last five days passed quicker than we thought. Playing around in a house she’s watching while the owners are away. There’s a fireplace and a yard and a fine old beagle with grey in his hair who barks at the letter carrier each day.
Small things make it harder to leave.
I’ve lived in Montréal ten years now. Wandered its streets and rode its trains. But I’m a citizen only in address. I was married. A situation that breeds isolation. We often disagreed on what makes a good friend. She liked stability. I craved excitement.
I convinced myself that French was getting in the way.
So here, in a city where English is accepted everywhere, I raise my voice over the sound of so many others, excuse me…my man…what the hell are those things you’re eating?
He laughs. Crumbs blowing all over his shirt and his eyes sparkle blue like Caribbean waters. Shrugging his heavy shoulders innocently he smiles a big silly grin. His voice tinged by Spanish he tells me, I don’t know man…I bought ‘em one time…they delicious…now, you know, I see the woman selling ‘em and I buy another bag.
I smile, nod along as he speaks. Look him up and down. Like all the men I’ve ever known his back is bent. His clothes and boots are filthy. Evidence of long days passed doing something that’s hard on body and soul. I know what it’s like. I’ve been standing twenty years now.
A bag of fried garbage can be exactly what you need.
You want to try ‘em, he asks. Of course. Spittle flies from my mouth. It’s been watering all along. I watch his fingers as he pulls two wagon wheels from the bag. His skin is cracked like mine. Do his knuckles hurt? Does he wonder if it’s all a waste of time?
This I don’t ask. Instead I politely take the wagon wheels from his hand as he offers them in silence. I remember the plague. Accepting food from a stranger was the same as asking to die. I was certain we’d lose our humanity. It’s nice to see I was wrong, that we can still go out and find a little love.
For what else is sharing food?
In my palm the wagon wheels are lighter than air. Lindsey watches. Him as well. Pressure as I raise one to my lips, take a bite. It’s sweet but not. Crunchy and airy and reminds me of something I can’t place from when I was a kid and thought life would get easier.
What do you think? he asks, the blue in his eyes sparkling again. I nod. Continue to chew. When I swallow I tell him he’s right. They are delicious. And I regret not grabbing a sack before the train came into the station. He shakes the bag at Lindsey.
You want to try little lady?
She declines. I tell her she’s nuts and give her a small piece of mine. Reluctantly she nibbles. Her face shows enjoyment as she chews, nods her head like she’s listening to her favourite song and says yum. I get a rush of happiness watching her. I soak up the experience. In a few hours I’ll be by myself again.
After that the conversation dwindles. Lindsey opens her phone to look up what we just ate. Chicharrones de harina. Fried flour. I think of telling the man. Letting him in on what he’s been eating. But I don’t. No point. I leave him to his bliss. The truth doesn’t always make life better.
When the train pulls into 14th Street-Union Square Lindsey and I get up. I hold her arm not wanting to lose her. The doors hesitate before opening. I tell the man stay out of trouble. I don’t hear him respond. The platform is filled with the noise of people trying to get home when all I want to do is stay.
I tighten my grip.
Steve Anwyll is the author of Welfare (Tyrant Books) and can be found online @oneloveasshole