While in Mexico I decided that I would make sure to use public transportation. I honestly feel that public transportation is a sure fire way to get to know the city and people up close and personal. Little did I know when I boarded the subway in Zona Rosa that I was going to experience one particular person up close and “real” personally.
Here’s what happened…
I jumped onto the subway just as the doors were closing. I scanned the train car looking for a seat. There was only one available so I raced toward it trying to beat the crowd. I didn’t even take time to see who it was near or next to. I flew into the available seat and noticed, for the first time, that no one else was competing to get there before me. I’ve caught this train before and this was the “first” time that I was able to get a seat. I was feeling really lucky until I looked to my left and saw an elderly woman who was obviously homeless and, as her eyes indicated, a bit unbalanced mentally.
I have to speak honestly. She smelled badly, her long black raven satin hair was oily and dirty. The many layers of soiled clothing and tattered coats would have given the average person a heat stroke. In her hands, falling from her toothless mouth and covering her clothes and the floor around her were pieces of a half eaten, very messy sandwich. It didn’t seem that much of it was making it into her mouth.
In that moment I had a decision to make (I seem to be faced with these a lot lately). I could either sit down next to her and brace myself for all that might come with sharing space with her, or I could walk a little bit further away and stand comfortably by myself. Ok… You know me by now. You know that I chose to stay seated next to her. After all, she is a human being simply down on her luck economically. What could go wrong?
So I sat down there, turned toward her, and looked her in the eyes to validate that I saw her as a human being, not simply an “undesirable” in society. I was feeling pretty good about my decision until her demeanor flipped and my eyes felt an empty, glassy stare that looked through me to some distant point behind me.
I wasn’t prepared for what she did next. She totally caught me off guard. I’m looking into her vacant eyes and expression when, out of nowhere she draws back and, with her full force, punched me in the arm.
Yes! She punched me!
It didn’t really hurt, but it was in that moment that I realized I was going to have to up my game exponentially if I was going to remain seated next to her. In that split second, I turned to her and gave it my best shot.
“I love you!” I whispered aloud to her.
Immediately she softened, her entire disposition changed to one of an enamored, flirtatious little girl.
At this point, she extended her hand, food and condiments dripping and falling from the side, and offered me some of her sandwich. Sensing that this was going in the right direction I immediately asked her a few things about herself. She was genuinely pleased with having someone to talk with. I thought things were really looking up. She was happy. I was comfortable. It was at this point that I felt her shift in her seat and begin leaning over to move closer to me. Before I knew it she was rubbing her grubby head and oily hair affectionately against the side of mine. She was really moving our “budding friendship” along faster, and more intimately, than I expected. Fortunately, for me she wanted more sandwich than cuddling. She sat back in her seat, flashing her wide toothless smile every few minutes as we continued with a little more small talk. I could see the faces of the passengers around me. I think they either felt sorry for me or they may have been questioning my sanity.
When my stop came up I turned to her and told her it had been nice chatting with her, as I would have done in any “typical” encounter. She smiled that wide, toothless, gummy smile once more and I could see that those few moments of discomfort on my part might have given her the gift of feeling “normal”. Maybe in that moment she didn’t feel invisible. It gave me the chance to reflect on how easy it is to overlook some people in society.