The first time you were on my train, you didn’t think I was paying attention to you. I could tell. You kept flicking your eyes in my direction, then staring at the patch of blackened gum next to my boot when you determined that you’d been looking at me for too long. You weren’t very good at calculating that interval of time. Sometimes you would examine me for half a second, sometimes for at least five-eighths of a minute. Your inconsistency was intriguing. I think my apparent disinterest made you feel more comfortable.
I wasn’t disinterested.
I was looking at you, too. I noticed the seven pins on your backpack, each one advocating for a different liberal cause. Right to choose. Gay marriage, even though that’s long settled. Even anti-TPP. That impressed me, that you would be against TPP, that you were knowledgeable enough and cared enough about it to jab that pin through your backpack fabric. Your backpack was black, with red detailing. The anti-TPP pin was on top of one of the red accents at a roughly 37-degree angle. I remember that.
And your face. Logically speaking, it was plain. Your nose was slightly curved and your eyes were dull brown. But you knew where your face was average, and instead of enhancing those places, you drew attention to their averageness. You’d sketched silver streaks across your waterlines -- to illuminate your dull brown eyes, not to make them striking. You think that guys like me don’t notice that. We do. We just don’t tell girls like you.
I had a science test that day -- AP Physics -- and I didn’t take my phone out to go over my flash cards. You didn’t know that, of course. But if you had, I think you’d have understood what it meant.
We got off at the same stop: 72nd Street. You followed me up the stairs, or maybe you just happened to be going in that direction, but my intuition told me that you were following me. I hurried, slipping between stoned hipsters with lazy gaits and harried businesswomen whose pumps were extraordinarily impractical for navigating the subway system. I didn’t want to see your face again. But you shoved through the throngs faster than I could. When we were on the same step, you didn’t say anything. I thought I could pretend that I hadn’t noticed you. Attempting to weave past a father and his daughter without separating them from each other, I stared up at the top of the staircase, where a patch of sky was beginning to emerge as I got closer to the street. You tapped me as I reached the last step before the sidewalk.
“Hey,” you said. You had glasses on -- the wire kind, not the plastic ones without lenses that appear to be the common trend -- and they were glinting from the few rays of sunlight that had wriggled out from in between the billowing cumulous clouds that dominated the sky.
“Hi.” I nodded to you as I spoke.
I quickened my steps as I approached the curb, but you kept pace with me. “I was wondering what time it was,” you said.
I glanced at the purple iPhone case peeking out of your sweatshirt pouch. Still, I drew my wrist up so you could see my watch. Analogue. “It’s 7:36,” I said.
“Shit. I’m late,” you muttered without speeding up.
I nodded again, stopping short at the corner of Amsterdam. “Good luck getting there on time.”
You smiled at me then. And I couldn’t write poetry even if Ralph Waldo Emerson threatened to kill me if I couldn’t spew out a verse, but I’m telling you that your smile looked a lot like the sun on your glasses.
If I’d told you, I think you’d have known what that meant, too.
No cars were coming, but you didn’t start to cross the street until the white walking man replaced the red hand. You walked deliberately. I watched your braids swing in constant rhythm with each step.
I got 100% on my AP Physics test that day, even though I hadn’t reviewed my flash cards since 9:53 the night before.
You were on my train again this morning. You had the same eyes. Same braids. Same pins on your backpack. But today, you had that purple iPhone clutched between newly-painted fingernails. You were smiling at something on your screen, the same way you smiled at me that day. I looked at you for a long time, waiting for you to glance up and see me, then give me that smile again. Eventually, you did look at me. Your eyes were foggy. Then you stared back down at your phone.
I took out my phone, too. I had another test -- honors American History. I scrolled through my flash cards the way I always do, allotting sixteen seconds to each definition. I don’t know how well I did on the test. If I received less than a 92%, I’ll punch my bathroom mirror once for every question I got wrong.
You didn’t remember my face. But I remembered yours.