Calypso on the T

I’m outside of my apartment for about three minutes before the trolley stops and its doors bend open to let me in, but I’ve already begun to perspire. The wetness around the base of my neck quickly absorbs into my black shirt collar the same way it’s been feeding the cotton pillowcases on my bed the past eleven days of this ungodly heat wave. By the time I find my usual Sunday morning seat, I feel my body’s temperature plateauing and know that soon the cool air blowing rabidly throughout the car will lower it to a comfortable level. I reach into my bag as the train lurches, pull out my book, and my eyes find their rhythm.

Just before the next stop, I imagine I hear a low humming – this simple two-note riff from a throaty near-groan with a flair of femininity – but as the brakes engage and the doors open for two commuters, there is nothing. I look again to the pages, forcing the paper covers to contact each other and creasing the spine harder than I’d intended.

As the train sings its approach to the next traffic light, the eerie, guttural chorus begins once more to descend on my ear. The presence of the sound gives me a chill. It feels as though it’s sneaking into the car through the same vents as the cool air. I am knocked out of sync with the words I’ve been trying to read for a minute or more so I just look beyond the page and wait for the sound to end. It must be someone’s music playing at a louder than personal level through their headphones. I can ignore this. I can get in a chapter before I’m stuck at work for the next 14 hours.

It knows. The intrusive sound returns just as I begin reading the same sentence for the fourth or fifth time. The train is stopped at a red light. I am affected now to lower my book and give a short over-the-shoulder glance to see which one of my fellow passengers has been interrupting the peace with this soul-penetratingly distraction of a song coming out of their wax-crusted earbuds. My seat is right at the bottom of this little two-step that leads up to the front of the trolley, where there is a bench of six seats on each side and then the driver’s cubbyhole on the left and the front doors down a step or two to the right. I look back, knowingly wearing a half-disgusted expression on my face that could either say, “hey you think just because this is public transportation and it’s Sunday morning it gives you right and reason to listen to whatever new yuppie-worshiped pop-diva doing some slow-moan-orgy-porno score at a decibel that will interrupt my pre-work reading?” or “I’ve just felt a drop low in my gut that tells me my three-day stint of constipation is nearly over and I hope my stop will be here soon,” because I’m told my facial expressions tend to be ambiguous.

The immediacy of my discovery, matched with the image that I now have burned behind my eyes, makes me need to catch an extra breath. Even thinking about it now makes my lungs clench. Directly after turning my shoulders a quarter a click and my head a half, I lock eyes with the culprit. I mean I lock eyes. She was staring at me from the right side of the bench, her knees not pointing forward, but cocked to an angle, which positioned her body in such a way that if you held a piece of yarn at her navel and walked straight forward, you’d run smack into my forehead. Her eyes bulged, her hair was a mess of braids, each tied at the end with blood-orange thread. She was not wearing headphones. Those strange voodoo chants were oozing from deep inside, boiling over the cauldron of her Calypsonian core.

She looks through me until I turn back. Not blinking, I return the book to my bag. I leave my sunglasses on even after the train submerges below the street, shutting my eyes behind them until I reach my transfer. When the doors close on the next train, I snap from the trance I had been under and get back to my reading, now eight minutes from work.


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