“My name’s Jason,” he said, “Wha—what’s your name?”
I was very surprised to be addressed and a little afraid.
“Alli,” I said quickly without really looking at him and swiveled my head in the exact opposite direction, which I thought was a polite social cue that signaled abort conversation.
“Oh, Alli… Alli. That’s a beautiful name,” Jason said.
I had been riding silently in the last car on the red line, heading from Clark all the way up to 96th Street. Things had been slow because of construction and uneventful because I was traveling alone. The train was running local, and I had gotten all the way to 34th Street. My eyes were glazing over with all the things I was thinking. I had reached that comfortable moment of “this is what the rest of the subway ride is going to be like.” No one had sat beside me; the row of seats I was sitting in had only one other person on it; in fact, the whole car was fairly empty.
I was half paying attention to a father undoing his son’s cornrows in the row of seats opposite to me when we came to 42nd. That was when our car filled with a few more people and a man sat right beside me, which I thought was strange since the whole row was still basically empty. It wasn’t just that he had sat next to me, but that he had sat entirely too close to me. I politely didn’t acknowledge the nearness. That’s when Jason introduced himself.
“So, are you coming from school?” he asked persistently, though my head was turned. I had a backpack in my lap, which was the only thing that could have prompted the question.
I looked back at him, my southern manners kicking in. My uneasiness slowly started to wane.
“No,” I said, “I’m actually going to visit some friends.”
I looked away again, back at the father and son.
“Oh, cool. Where do you live? Like Queens or where?”
“Brooklyn,” I said curtly, hoping he’d get the message that I didn’t want to talk.
“Oh, where?” he was asking so sweetly.
“Like Brooklyn Heights area,” this was the moment I realized that Jason wasn’t giving up. He was going to keep on talking to me, and he would keep asking me questions that would concentrically get closer and closer to me volunteering my street address and apartment number. I decided to do something childish and distract him with our immediate surroundings, which were conveniently remarkable.
“Woah,” I said looking out of the subway window and into the floodlit tunnels, “What do you think they’re doing? That looks crazy.”
I was referring to the dozens of men working in the subway tunnel under that harsh light.
Jason was looking at me and at them, back and forth. Finally, he knew what he wanted to say, “Oh, you know, they’re fixing the subway tracks—sometimes they break and they want to fix them so the trains don’t fly off the tracks and explode.”
“Oh, you’re probably right,” I said.
I let him ask me about where I go to school and about my major. As soon as I said the word Media, he told me a lot about himself and how he was applying to a bunch of colleges in the city and wanted to go into technology studies. He hadn’t been nervous the whole time he was talking to me. He’d struggled sometimes about how he wanted to say things to me, but he wasn’t shy. At this point, though, he got a little bashful.
“Yeah, I’m still finishing up high school, but I’m almost done now…” he looked away, he’d been really good at eye contact until now, “I go to, you know, a special needs high school. It kind of stinks sometimes. Because, well, because there’s mostly only guys there. Like me. Not a lot of girls. And there aren’t any girls like you there. They’re just not like you.”
I smiled at him and said, “Well, you’ll meet more girls like me when you go to college.”
He smiled back, “Yeah.”
The train was stopping at 86th, and he said he was getting off.
“It was good to meet you, Jason,” I said as he stood up.
“It was good to meet you too, Alli.”
He stopped on the platform and turned around to watch the car leave the station. We waved at each other through the subway window.