Friday, October 06, 2006

i'm almost certain that we both lied

This morning's metro ride was supposed to be the sort of affair where I get on the train, I find a seat, and then I proceed to sit in that seat and listen to my iPod for twenty minutes after a semi-sleepless, hungover night. All was going according to plan: after my miserable walk through puddles and merciless roadspray, I found a seat on the train, right at the edge of the seat bank (my favorite seat). A black woman of a certain age was sitting next to me, and she made her presence known by saying, "Good morning." I'm sure I mumbled something moderately pleasant back to her while an old Cardigans song blasted in my earbuds.

The ride was like any other, the calming influence of familiar music punctuated by the screeching of the brakes and the periodic stops. But right after we had passed the first stop, I saw the woman next to me take a pink pamphlet out of her bag and rest it on top of her still-folded copy of the Post Express. She held it up for a while, as though she expected me to get a good look at the cover before she opened it. It was called Happiness Digest. Like Readers' Digest, only for the Bible. As the train crept through the district, she made a big show of opening the pamphlet and folding it over to read it.

It was the kind of booklet that my grandmother always kept around her house, piled in neat stacks on her coffee table. They were basically portable sermons, replete with quotations from Scripture and affirmations of God's love through Jesus Christ. The woman, whose smooth face belied her age, was visibly checking on me, to make sure that I was reading over her shoulder. I was not.

Fiona Apple was crooning about sin in my ears. The woman knew that I would be getting off the train soon, as I was buttoning my coat and unbuttoning my umbrella, so she turned to me and spoke in a slow, frail voice. "I like to give away this pink book on my birthday," she said. "Will you take it?", what would an angel say?
the devil wants to know...

"I already have one." The words slipped out before I was even sure what I wanted to say.


I was in it, now. "Yes."

"Take it anyway, and share it," she said, thrusting the book into my hands as I stood to leave the train. "It makes me happy."

"Ok, thanks," I answered, the words tumbling out of my mouth in a curious hurry. "Happy birthday."

"Oh!" she laughed, sounding a bit startled. "Thank you."

I hadn't noticed her perfume until that moment, cloying and heavy like old people and incense, but the scent stayed with me all the way to the office.

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