Subways, I love them. The door to the carriage opens, it closes, and your two or five or 15 minutes of silent intimacy with people you’ve never met begins. Like unacquainted sardines. Like a colony of seals piled upon each other in stoic orgy.
We’re rich, we’re poor; black and white; Chavistas and Chavez-haters; young and old; enamored and broken-hearted. And, we are two inches from each other, probably less.
Eyes dart, eyes seduce, eyes avert. Eyes are everything on the subway. And we use them to observe each other in a way that, above ground, is reserved strictly for lovers. Lovers lying in bed, noting every candle-lit feature, flaw, and scar of their partners.
On the subway these intimate observations tell stories. The rushed and jagged application of eyeliner. The red blotch around the freshly popped pimple, the wonder-bra’d cleavage and extra spray of perfume.
It’s all two inches from my face: the possessive grip of the teenage boy’s hand around his girlfriend’s shoulder, the dilated eyes of the gothic druggie, the furrowed brow of the young man reading Bob Marley lyrics while listening to his mp3 player.
When I was a kid, every time I rode on any vehicle of transportation – be it bus, ferry, airplane, what have you – I would always have Lord of the Flies-like daydreams. What would happen if this particular group of strangers all got stranded somewhere? And I’d spend hours inventing my own Gilligan’s Island script. Clearly, I’m not alone. It’s the basis of every reality TV show that has ever existed.
About four feet from me is a teenage girl who keeps staring. Her eyes dart away every time I look over. I can see the blackheads in the ear of the guy pressed up against me. Directly in front of me, seated, an elderly woman’s forehead is about six inches from my belt buckle. She is staring at my sandals as if they were a sudoku puzzle she’s been working on for days.
“Estación Chacao” says the pre-recorded voice. The brakes screech to a halt, the doors sigh open, and I depart. Those former lovers with whom I had been lying in bed are again strangers. They will mug me in the street and they will help me when I ask for directions. They will give me the bird when I cut them off on the highway and I will do the same when they cut me off.
Walking out of the station, my eyes adjust to the bright sunlight. A layer of fog is draped over El Ávila. And I’m already thinking of all I need to do.