I’m on the E train and a child who isn’t mine is leaning her head on my left shoulder. She is sleeping and I don’t quite know what to do yet. Her mother is to her left daydreaming, completely unaware that her daughter’s head has shifted onto a stranger. I decide to let her rest. She looks so peaceful and happy and I don’t want to wake her. The eavesdroppers and onlookers understand my decision and their judgments register on their faces. The consensus is clear: what I’m doing is strange and perhaps in violation of some unspoken social code. They don’t care enough to say anything though since talking to a stranger on a subway might violate another part of that same code. That is, most of them don’t care enough to say anything.
“That’s mad creepy, bro.”
I take my eyes off the subway floor and look up to see a pimply-faced Latino teenager with a grey hoodie that must be at least three sizes too big for him.
“Relax, man. I just don’t want to wake her up.” I say it softly but with a bit of hostility. Maybe I’m also annoyed that someone is violating the code.
“I’m just saying that’s not your kid, bro.”
His voice rises and the mother finally looks over and realizes what’s going on. She reacts as if she has just received an electrical shock and viciously yanks her daughter’s sleeve, causing her to drift away from me. Our eyes meet for a moment and the mother smiles at me weakly in a mixture of appreciation and embarrassment. She ignores the teenager entirely, shifts her head back over, and resumes daydreaming. She doesn’t utter a word.
I look back to the teenager and see him glaring at me, upset that I haven’t been punished for breaking the code. The brakes on the train screech and the teenager looks at the electronic display.
“Whatever, man,” he hisses as we near the 14th Street stop.
He turns his back to me so he can exit the train. The mother shakes her daughter awake, again without saying a word. The child opens her eyes, still in a daze. Seeing her daughter is in no condition to walk right away, the mother hoists her up and allows her to fall asleep again. The train gives a final jolt as we arrive at 14 Street and the mother nearly loses her balance since her arms are occupied. No one tries to catch her. In fact, they dodge her as if she were trying to delay them. She regains her footing in time and exits the train along with the teenager.
Photo by Steve Harris
The next stop is West 4th, my stop. I do my usual reflection upon how “West 4th Street Station” is a misnomer since one can’t actually enter the station from West 4th Street. Then that same subway jolt tells me it’s time to get up.
When I begin making for the doors, most of the people who were within the radius of my argument with the teenager look at me. Some avert their eyes when I look back, others pretend they were looking at something else. I wonder which ones and how many of them think I was in the right and it suddenly starts to matter to me. The only spectator who maintains eye contact with me is a mother with her newborn son strapped to her chest. Her smile is almost blinding and she gives me a nod of approval. It fills me up.
I exit the car and now I’m smiling too. I’m believing that if it were to happen again, I would do the exact same thing.
Born in San Diego, Joseph Rauch is an alumnus of NYU working as a Freelance Writer. He is also a half White/Jewish and half Lebanese Atheist who hopes to impact and entertain the world with his ideas and stories.