I’ve meant to write about the man on the train to York. I just haven’t. I’m not even sure I will, at least the way I have imagined crafting the images and voices I replay in my head. Maybe, for now, I will just describe him.
He was in his mid-forties and wore a grey t-shirt tucked into well worn jeans. His warm curiosity deepened several well formed lines above his brow, as if he was almost always pleasantly surprised by what was in front of him. His leather braided belt did not match his white sneakers. He slung a blue hoodie over the seat across the isle from us and threw his travel pack down. He was on us before we had a chance to look away.
“You don’t sound English,” he said. He sat sideways in his seat and faced us.
He didn’t sound British. His inflection soffened the ‘d’ and drew out the ‘o’ in don’t. I expected him to throw in an “eh,” though he refrained. Maybe Minnesota? It didn’t matter. He smiled, but there was sadness in his eyes. The ice was broken and a response was only fair.
He rested his arm against the headrest in front of him and settled in.
We told him an abbreviated story about why we lived in London, where we worked, and why we were on our way up North. And for the rest of the trip, he told us his story.
He had a friend named, JJ. She was a stripper and seemed to pop up in several of his stories. He was unapologetic and matter of fact. I was refreshed by that. I also just wanted to relax and watch England go by. He spent several years in Norway. Maybe it was Sweden. He refereed an NHL game when the real refs were on strike. He had a distant cousin in England that he didn’t like so much.
And then he finally said the things he needed to say.
Life. It was the common thread. And loss, it I’m afraid was the purpose behind each of his words when he really got going. He was on a journey precipitated by life’s constant reminder that fairness is really just a misguided slogan. Life, I’m afraid, is fair only when taken as a whole.
Like water, we start from a faucet and try to hold gravity while we circle a large white basin beneath us. Some of us may start up higher and circle for longer, while some of us simply drop straight from the spigot and into the drain.
He told his story, and we listened. Her eyes begged me to tell him, “I understand.” And I really did, understand, all too well.
York was the next stop, and I had to decide just how much I wanted to share.
When I got off the train, I left my bag on the platform and circled back to train. I found his eyes behind the window and waved goodbye.