Here, the first of the “subway people” I mentioned in my last post:
I made it through the subway doors just before they clamped shut behind me and sat down in the first seat I saw – right next to the door, facing the inside of the car. I sat straight, hands folded tightly around the handle of my bag, trying not to touch the plexiglass barrier blurred with greasy smudges left behind by other commuters.
“That’s a beautiful ring you have there.” The old woman startled me. Nondescript, with grey, curling hair neatly combed if not recently coiffed. Her dark coat was a good one; it had the soft look of cashmere but had seen better days. I found it strange I hadn’t noticed her.
I smiled politely. “It’s beautiful,” she repeated, nodding toward my hand.
Beautiful? “I suppose so,” I shrugged.
The ring was small, moulded to create a gold flower where a stone setting might normally sit. It was meant to be a rose, but there was a little gap in the middle, an emptiness that people seemed to want to fill. They often asked me what happened to the stone – was it a pearl, perhaps? “No,” I’d answer. “There was never anything there.”
“Is it gold?” she asked. I nodded yes.
“You’re very lucky,” she said. I considered her remark, weighing whether this small gold ring made me feel lucky or not. I’d bought it myself out of some of the first money I’d earned at a summer job.
“I wanted a gold ring once,” she told me. “But I didn’t have a lot of money.”
Still, desire often finds a way. She may not have been able to go to one of the big jewellery stores – atmosphere costs, and she didn’t have enough money for atmosphere – but she did have enough for the pawn shop.
“One of those places on Jarvis St.,” she explained. The shop was filled with treasures from other people’s lives – treasures that could fetch a quick buck when needed. Soon a man appeared behind the counter, asking if he could help.
She was nervous, she said, still not certain she had enough money. “But I told him I wanted to buy a gold ring.”
“He showed me one ring after another,” she said. “Rings with pearls. Rings with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. It broke my heart but I had to keep saying no.”
Finally, she said, she left pride behind and confessed: “What can I get for $35?” He raised an eyebrow, thought about it for a moment, then rummaged in a drawer.
“This, perhaps?” He held up a signet ring. The gold catching in the light made her gasp. “It was beautiful,” she remembered to me.
But the initial. “It wasn’t the same as mine,” she said, shaking her head with sad regret.
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“Oh, I bought it anyway.” Here, finally, was a gold ring within her reach – she wasn’t about to let it go.
I looked down at her hands, this old lady with the threadbare coat – and there was no ring there. Before I could ask, she patted my hand, wished me luck and said goodbye.
The subway had reached her stop and it was time to go.