Humpty Dumpty

July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

There is this really nerdy guy I have been seeing around a lot lately. It started one night as I boarded a crowded train at Clark/Lake. I was working later than usual, so I thought I had missed the rush. I wasn’t prepared for the packed train and waffled between sitting or standing – I headed one direction to stand and quickly changed my mind and turned to head toward a seat. As I blindly darted in its direction, I noticed too late that someone was headed right for it. A guy politely moved out of the way and gestured for me to sit down.

I saw this happen out of the corner of my eye because I was staring at the ground like I always do. The guy was being nice, but still I couldn’t muster up the courage to look him in the eye and say thanks.

As I took the seat, he sat down in the seat perpendicular to mine, so he was sitting backward, looking at my profile while I stared into the center of the train.

I could feel his presence as if he were right next to me, nearly touching the edges of my body. But he wasn’t touching me, he probably wasn’t even looking at me. I wished I could rewind to five minutes prior so that I could thank him for his kindness or apologize for my oblivion – something to make that awkward heaviness evaporate from the air we now shared.

I tried to ignore it, to drown in whatever song was playing on my iPod, but the feeling of his presence wouldn’t go away.

He was a strange looking fellow – an egg head in every sense. His perfectly oval face was accented with large circular glasses that would slide down the crest of his low-sloping nose. The fluorescent lighting of the train glowed off his smooth forehead where his hair was ever-so politely running away from his head. His big lips occasionally pursed in confusion as his eyes betrayed the thoughts in his head. The green sweater he wore blended gently into his brown pants that stopped just short of his well-worn brown leather shoes.

While I sat there under the weight of his presence, I wondered where he had come from, how he spent his days and what he went home to. I imagined that he is a scientist who works at a computer in a dimly lit room surrounded by textbooks full of words I’d never heard before. He is lonely in a world he is constantly trying to understand.

Something about him made thinking of him irresistible to me.

We got off at the same stop. He scurried through the platform, opting for the escalator while I climbed the stairs. Up the second level and out to the street, he disappeared into the moonlight.

While I walked a little further, I saw him emerge under a street light and turn left onto a street not far from the station. I continued on my way as the encounter played over in my mind, then slowly faded away.

The next morning I opted for the train over my bike and made the same trek back to the station. As I find a good spot on the platform, I turn about to entertain myself with the surroundings. Before I finish my first scan, my eyes land on the bench behind me.

It was him, same round face, big glasses, balding head, puffy lips and wandering eyes. He had the same confused and lonely look with which I had left him mere hours before.

It’s not such a strange coincidence to see someone more than once on the train, especially when you get on and off at the same spot. Perhaps I had just stumbled into his daily routine, as mine was rather sporadic at the time.

I lost him in the swarms of bleary-eyed commuters. Though I was struck by the coincidence, so far it was just that.

A few days later I was sitting in a car with my roommate, on the corner of Randolph and Wacker. We were meeting our friends there after work to head to Milwaukee for the weekend.

It was around 5:45 p.m. and we were blocks from the train I take to get in and out of the city. I am gazing out the front window, looking for our friends when I see that guy, Mr. Egg Head himself, waiting to cross the street. He was walking away from the direction of the train I had seen him on a few days before, and it was much earlier than the first time our paths crossed.

I was in a situation I am not usually in – sitting in a car waiting for friends to go out of town. This was no longer a random meshing of daily routines where the great big world becomes smaller only because we do the same thing every day. I saw this guy, for the third time, through a sea of people walking on a major downtown street during one of the busiest times of the day.

I marveled at the sighting for a minute or two and then got caught up in the excitement of our road trip and let it slip my mind once more.

Tonight I rode the train with three friends – two of whom are the ones I was waiting for in the car on the corner of Randolph and Wacker to go to Milwaukee about a week ago.

The four of us were each sitting in different rows so we could face each other and talk. When conversation lulled, I glanced around the train to make judgments about the people around me.

I noticed a brown jacket and followed the outline to the face in the window. A pair of eyes surrounded by perfectly round glasses stared through the window into the dark tunnel we were gliding through. I moved my eyes from the reflection in the window to the profile – the side of a round face, corners of plump lips and a lonely hunch formed the figure of this strange being I can’t seem to avoid.

Recognition flashed on my face, but only momentarily, since I was expected back in the conversation any second now. I kept looking back at him, though, perplexed by the continued encounters – all at completely different times and under varying circumstances.

This is not just a guy from the neighborhood who I see on the same train at the same time every day.

He could see me through the window and I could tell he recognized me because he began to get fidgety in his seat. This time, it was he who felt the air thicken and weigh heavy on his shoulders.

I got up from my seat much sooner than necessary – eager to see what would happen as we walked through the station.

On the platform, he shot me a few knowing, wondering glances and then ascended the escalator while I opted for the stairs.

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