I was wondering why she was reading a children’s book. I didn’t see the title page, didn’t catch its name. But I could see, peering down on her as I stood holding on to the pole in the subway, snooping, something in big, kid-friendly type, about frogs. She seemed engrossed; was reading intently.
This middle-aged woman wore a sheepskin hat, black curls peering out from underneath. Her face had a sophisticated, intelligent look that sat in opposition to the book she was reading.
Perhaps she’s learning English, I thought. I leaned in a bit. There weren’t any pictures on the page, so maybe she’d progressed to the mid-range list.
Perhaps she works at a publishing house and was reading some of the back catalogue.
Or maybe she’d picked up the book for her own child and wanted to give it a read before giving it to them. Maybe they were doing a project on frogs and their habitats that she was going to help with.
Speculating about other people’s lives helps make a bad transit ride bearable.
We came into the station, the doors opened and I was jostled by carelessly flung backpacks and pointy elbows. She got up to leave.
“Would you like to take this seat?” she asked me.
“Sure. Thanks!” I said, pleased to exchange courtesies with a stranger on the subway.
I sat down – but she didn’t get off. She grabbed the subway pole I’d just been holding on to.
“I hope you’re getting off at the next stop,” I said.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m getting off soon enough,” she smiled.
It was then I realized in horror – she thought I was pregnant! That’s why she gave me the seat – so me and my unborn child wouldn’t be jostled and elbowed.
But you see, it was just a cold day and I’d folded up my bulky scarf under my coat. I was mortified. But if I’d said to her, no, no, keep your seat, I’m not pregnant, then she would have been mortified. So, being courteous, I said nothing.
Oh well, I thought, trying not to be insulted. She was reading that children’s book. She must have had babies on the mind.
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