The boy in the subway car

Today I saw a little boy, his face and hands pressed to the window of a subway car as it heaved itself out of the station at West 116th Street in New York City. I’d just gotten off the train and was walking north on the platform as it began to pull out south. Though this is a popular station–there are at least two universities and two seminaries within about four blocks of it–few people descended, and the train remained crowded. The little boy with his hands and face pressed to the glass didn’t seem to mind. He was hardly older than a toddler, and he was transfixed–by what? The dim lights, grimy white and blue tiles, empty chips bags and soda bottles on the floor of shared space? Or was he checking out the people as they rushed past him, one angling around another, insistent, pressing toward the stairs, up and out. His studious little face is clear as a photo in my mind, as he took in the scene in a moment while the train scraped forward. The dark environment, the realm of rushing adults, the newsstand momentarily bright and oasis-like, the man encased in possessions asleep on what looked like a brittle throne, carved and crafted. The boy seemed to reserve judgment as his dark eyes examined the scene slipping slowly away. I wondered: Would he one day become one of those rushing students, teachers, office workers, wait staff, newsstand attendants, lost and aimless humans encased in stuff? And if he did venture into this world, what would he offer it? How would he change it or would he charge ahead, as so many of us on the platform today, shielded by blinders of narrow purpose? Would he be aware of the other lives angling past his? As a young boy, face and hands pressed to the glass of a subway train just pulling out of a station, he seemed to be taking stock.

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