Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:
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Lost Love And Loneliness

His dark hands are gnarled. Ashy skin flakes from his twisted nuckles. The thick, blackened fingernail jutting obstinately from his thumb is nearly torn off, leaving jagged ridges of nail behind. He catches me looking at his dirty fingernails and instinctively curls them tightly around the pole, back into his hand.

He had shuffled smoothly onto the subway at 34th street. By smoothly I mean to say he didn't frantically hurtle through the turnstyle, like most folks do when the operator warns straphangers to "stand clear of the closing doors, please."

The old boy paid no mind to the overmodulated voice of the conducter crackling through the speaker. He continued to shamble steadily toward the sliding doors, dragging a black Hefty bag stretched to gray transluscence, and a backpack that had seen better days. Hell, this pack mighta seen better decades.

I watched, curious to see if he'd make the number one uptown train I was riding to work. As the seconds ticked by, his pace didn't quicken although anyone who has ridden the subway more than once knows when to give it a little giddyup or else miss the train. He knew it. But he didn't care. I guess it wasn't like he had an appointment uptown or anything. The train was just another way to pass the time, the cold night. If he missed this one another one would be along shortly. That's the nice thing about trains. Reliability. You can count on 'em. There's always another one coming.

The doors were seconds from banging shut. I was certain they would close before he made it, or worse, close on him, as they sometimes do, like a giant mouth hungry for humans. Then, embarrassed for him, we'd all have to avert our eyes while he struggled to shove them back open.

But he pressed on, ultimately stepping onto the train a split-second before the doors clamped shut behind him, narrowly missing his garbage bag. The whites of his eyes were tinged pink, his lower lip jutted out like Bubba the shrimp guy in Forrest Gump. But this man was handsome once. His scraggily salt and pepper beard belied the aristocratic plains of his Hershey bar colored skin.

We stand together, he and I, clinging to the pole while the train jerkily negotiates the underground of New York City. Other riders turn their backs, slink to other poles. Giving the man space, I assume, because of his disheveled appearance. That makes me sad. He seems almost tranquil. At peace with himself. In a better place than the rest of us whose minds are cycling through work trauma, relationship drama, money woes..

I wonder who he was before he arrived at this point, before life got away from him and time began it's dirty work, eating away at his once handsome face. He is a son, probably a brother, maybe a father.. That makes me sad too.

Slowly, as if a result of being jolted by the train, I slide my hand up the pole until the top of my hand is touching the bottom of his. I can feel his warm, dry skin graze my own softer skin with each bounce of the train. Although there is plenty of space to move his hand away if my proximity makes him uncomfortable, he leaves his weathered paw where it is. And begins to sing. A low, warbling lullaby, just loud enough for the two of us to hear.

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Reader Comments (11)

If this is a true story, you are a real angel. Most people wouldn't reach out to, and humanize, the person you describe. Myself included, I'm ashamed to admit.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
True story.. I think the only bit of fiction on this entire blog thus far is a post called "Beautiful Bones".
April 4, 2006 | Registered CommenterMonica
Oh, that is so sweet! I strange, dark man once sang me a lullaby too on a bus! Weird but it was so calming. Anyway, hello Monica. I am new to your blog. I used to live in Ohio but i've been in Europe since my early twenties. I'm in Greece. Feeling kind of trapped right now. Ho-hum the times will change! Your blog helps my mind travel to other places. Thanks.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEvangelia
Trapped in Greece? Is that possible? Greece seems like the kinda place I'd like to escape to...
April 4, 2006 | Registered CommenterMonica
This was one of your sweetest yet. I would have wanted to somehow made a connection with this dear old man myself, but wouldn't have known quite how to do it. What you did was perfect. I just love this...
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermama
Great post...I felt like I was sitting across from the two of you, watching you on the subway. Wouldn't it be fantastic to have this gentle man post some of his own stories - I am sure they would be fascinating, and heartbreaking at the same time.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRichelle
That brought tears to my eyes.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSicksadworld
Beautifully written. I love riding the subway, or the metro, for stories like these.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkerri
You have a nack (sp? sorry, too tired to look up the proper spelling) for telling the stories of the homeless. The new Charlie video is heartbreaking. Well done.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAimee
Your story makes me think of Andre Williams and whether anyone did something kind like that for him when he was on the streets.

Girlie, you've got guts and a big 'ol heart!

April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGreen Id Girl

I first heard about you in City's amazing how many people share a very similar part of your story in the SL Valley.
Just thought I would tell you that I read your blog religiously - you seem like such an amazing person. I look forward to more blogs like this one. :}
April 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGallivan_PL

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