My big shoulder-bag, one of the stars of this essay, doesn’t lend itself to traveling with an iPod if I don’t have a coat with pockets on. On the metro, coming back from spray-painted, moonlit Obolon’, I ended up having to stuff it in the waistband of my jeans as I stood by the door, and then un-stuffing it and stuffing it back whenever I wanted to skip a song.
The man in front of me was watching with purely automatic interest each time that I raised the curtain of my pullover and drew it down again. His ears were plugged with headphones, like mine. There were interesting scars on his cheeks, possibly the kind you get when you’re trying to be a badass. Besides us, there were women with plastic bags and blond hair showing its darker roots, also like mine. There was a man in a tracksuit. There was an older woman with an amazing pair of milky breasts flowing out of her ruched shirt, an almost exact replica of which I’d picked up for one of my aunts in London, in Oxford Street, in the best time there is to be in London (which is May), when things still seemed as though they would not change.
And I could see in the eyes of the people riding the metro with me their loves, loves that were alive and loves that were gone, loves that were biting the earlobes of other women in cafes with bad music on the riverfront, loves that were half-sleeping under asters and garbage in dark cemeteries and half-wandering the distant, cannibal curves of Andromeda, and they were all crowded there, in bloodshot eyeballs and dilated pupils, standing on tiptoe, peeking out.
I wanted to turn and look at my own dark reflection in the door, and instead I clung on tightly to the handrail, and imagined that the outline of my body was not present in that horrible doubled-up world on the other side the glass. That I could not, even if I would allow myself, turn around and greet my own eyes, tinged with the dirty dishwater colour of the passageways below this ancient city. That the only person in the mirror was the man with the headphones and the scars. That I wasn’t part of this picture at all.
And I remembered a different metro ride, also at the crackling, smoky start of another autumn. Yura and I were going to an outdoor gym across the river, light backpacks swinging from our shoulders. The round lamps on the train were the colour of marmalade. The train bounded out from the earth, onto the bridge. The city glittered faintly beyond the glass, its lights always making me think of stolen jewelry. I had been looking forward to going to the States later in the week, but a terrible sadness had been rocked awake inside of me, as I complicated leaving my friend, leaving the city, climbing the thin air above this river, while inside little pockets of warmth on the bridge, Yura and other people I care about would continue to go back and forth, listening to their MP3 players, berating a sneering someone for not giving up his seat to a hugely pregnant woman.
I thought, “how lucky I am to be inside this moment, instead of some other one.”
And last night, with the cool side of my iPod pressing against my stomach, and the cool glance of a strange man there as well, in that place where I’m used to having only warm hands, I thought, “I am lucky to be inside this moment too.” I didn’t sound too convinced to myself in my own head, but then an argument erupted over a sneering someone pushing another sneering someone into someone who was not sneering and only minding their own business thankyouvermuch, and the inhabitants of the train car blinked back their collective memories and turned to watch.