I am on the train headed south to San Jose.
The clouds have ended their strike at last, and the earth is lapping up water like a thirsty mutt.
The two women sitting in front of me are talking loudly, or at least one of them is. The other is listening quietly, affirming her companion with “uhuhs” and intermittent chuckles.
The talkative one—she is spewing words like a hot tub jet stream, a barrage of buckshot words pummeling the air and then dissipating into nothing. You can tell she’s been practicing her whole life, a talker since birth, retort-ready, wielding words like weapons, punching, jabbing, swatting, shocking.
She’s telling a story, and I’m catching lines.
“She says I was not paying attention. I says it won’t hurt if you don’t wiggle.”
“I says you ain’t gonna go back to school no more.”
She is repeating conversations. “I says.” “She says.”
The train stops, and a gangly white man in a faded grey sweatshirt, probably in his early twenties, wearing glasses he’s probably had since puberty, stumbles down the aisle, trying to reach the train door. He’s pulling a small rolling backpack behind him, and his mouth is agape. His feet tangle, and he trips, falling onto the ground. His pants worn low around his thighs instead of his hips slip even lower. He is flustered but unaware.
As he clumsily picks himself up and lurches forward for the door, the talkative woman notices the commotion and turns from her conversation. She yellws from behind, “You losin’ your britches! Your pants are fallin’ down, boy!”
He barely hears her, and he’s out the door.
She keeps talking, “Looks like he got dirty diapers, for real.”
She keeps talking, now to the whole train car.
“Know where that came from?” referring to his sagging pants, his underwear exhibition, which I remember pre-pubescents boys embracing around the same time they discovered the wretched smell that is Axe, which they kept in their lockers to spray like air freshener through the school hallways. Teachers told them to pull their pants up or wrote them up for not wearing a belt.
Another woman, sitting cater corner to the talkative one, yells back, “From prison!”
“That’s right,” the big mouth answers. “That way you got easy access.”
Now she’s just talking for show.
“It just looks nasty. I wish he’d pull up them britches because I don’t need to see the Grand Canyon,” she says with a cackle. In my head, I'm thinking of the construction worker I saw on the street the other day, who was bent over in his dirty white painter pants, an eyesore to every passing pedestrian. I didn't need to see that. "Grand Canyon," I thought. "Perfect." I am always trying to make sense of my life by forging absurd, metaphorical connections between this phenomenon and that. The absurdity is comfortable.
At the San Jose Diridon station, we all get off the train, and when I pass by her, I see she’s a haggard, old white woman, grimacing, now on pause. Her bones bear the weight of age, and she’s hunched over, carrying several bags. I am suddenly grief-stricken by her silence.