kindness of strangers

by appearance

by appearance
Written by Cathoel Jorss,

A man in front of me got up from his bench and ambled towards the train. He was huge and had that loping, awkward walk of a boy who’s been called too big all of his life. I’d say 6’5″ or 6″. As we both sat down on opposite benches he pulled out a book and started to read. I was reading, too, in fact, hearteningly, several books appeared on that ride but the truth is I spent as much time stealing covert glances as concentrating on Mary Stuart’s court. This man was dressed in giant red sneakers, a sloppy, comfortable tracksuit, baseball cap. He was black. In America I imagine he’d have been in danger of being shot for the crime of Being Tall Whilst Black. The expression of gentleness on his face and the shy way he held his head, his utter concentration on the page, made me love him. The temptation to go up and say, Excuse me, you just have such a beautiful, gentle spirit I just wanted to say hello, was very strong. Only respect for his reading and his solitude prevented me interrupting him as I got off. And I didn’t want to make him speak out about himself in front of all those people when he was staying behind and riding further, and I was leaving: it seems aggressive, it would have made him conspicuous in a lifetime where clearly conspicuousness had been a burden. I would so have loved to know what he was reading.

7 comments on “by appearance

  1. I think of etiquette as a form of connection, at least, it proceeds from respect and compassion. Recognising someone’s humanity and needs is a great reason to restrain one’s own freedoms. Being tyrannised by a long-unquestioned habit imposed by the tribe… not so much.

    Cathoel Jorss March 12, 2015 at 9:15 pm
  2. By the way if I see him again, I will definitely ask what he is reading. It looked like it was in English.

    Cathoel Jorss March 12, 2015 at 9:16 pm
  3. Oh, I fully agree with you, Cathy. It just felt intrusive at this particular moment because he was so absorbed; and also he was clearly a self-conscious guy so I hesitated to make him explain himself in front of two dozen silent strangers jammed together on the train. But ja. Now I am curious. Obviously a great read!

    Cathoel Jorss March 13, 2015 at 7:34 am

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