I’m sitting at the metro stop waiting for the train. Its midday and I am surprisingly surrounded by women – there is only one man in sight. It is raining so everyone is dressed a little more warmly than as of late. Many carry an umbrella. Most people wait patiently – the French are used to waiting for the trains. I pick up bits of conversation but for the most part, we are all together but all alone.
We move to the train – its fairly empty – I get a row to myself. Bits of chatter pick back up. A man sits diagonally across from me. He wears all black and leans on his arm, resting it on the windowsill. To my side is a typical older gentleman. He alters between crossing his arms and adjusting his classes. The lights flicker off – a regular occurrence – and the gloom of the drizzly day seeps through the windows. A man reading the newspaper sits a few rows away, facing me. He leans into it, reading intently. Its an actual newspaper, not just one handed to him for free on the street. At the next stop several more join us – a few children. They are chipper despite the rain. Two girls share a row, one with headphones, both with bulky black scarves. It is so interesting how entirely close to one person you can be and yet have no need whatsoever to even say hello – ahh, the French way.
The train is beginning to fill up, people start to stand. I uncross my legs to make room. I hear the jingle of a tambourine – yes, its time for some gypsy performers – typical for a midday metro ride. The speckled blue ground is covered in rainy footprints, a few used tickets are scattered on the floor. The lights come back on and the gypsy music begins, today it is an electric violin – a new one for me. His friend, the one who will collect the money, keeps tempo with a tambourine. I pull a fifty-cent piece out of my wallet, I enjoy the music. A man gets on with his bike. He doesn’t look too pleased to be sharing the space with violinist and friend. The man nearest me continues to stare out the window, leaning on his arm. Someone sits down just across from me , listening to her iPod. The violinist begins a slower, almost recognizable melody as his friend gathers donations and the women across from me pulls out a book.
I drop my fifty centimes in. It clinks when it hits the bottom of the little cup and I get a quiet merci. We leave the dreary day to head underground. The familiar voice announces the next stop, twice, Nanterre – Préfecture. The metro music leaves, on to have better luck elsewhere. The metro noises are amplified in the underground tunnel – the sounds of gaining and loosing speed a symphony all their own. Each of us attempts to become as small as possible as the train continues to fill. I look up from my writing and find the window starer staring at me – he quickly looks away. He then stands and we make room for him to get off at his stop. The woman takes his place. Another woman takes hers, dressed less than appropriately for the weather. The newspaper man now reads a magazine, the older gentleman’s arms are still folded, his eyes closed like a few others sitting near. A mother and daughter on the opposite side of the train – they both have red hair – share secrets, whispering in each other’s ears then quietly giggling, as not to disturb others.
As we approach busier stops a sort of metro dance begins – a graceful transfer of people leaving and coming, spots being opened and quickly filled. An occasional bump and pardon, but for the most part the transfer happens seamlessly – its been done a million times. Those who have been standing opt to sit down. A husband rolls on a baby stroller, only a few who got on when I did remain. Though mother and daughter still whisper, most just keep to themselves, staring into the distance, focusing on nothing. One man who sits with his legs out in the walkway folds origami from an old wrapper. Another woman shakes off her umbrella – its purple. A darling little girl with bug-eyed glasses wanders too far from her mother and a large cheetah print suitcase is rolled up just next to me.
My stop is next and I will join the dance, but not until I am approached by another man begging for money and greeted with a less than delightful smell that is just so metro. I relinquish my seat and in doing so drop my umbrella. A kind woman picks it up for me, though no words are exchanged. The train comes to a jolting stop and arms reach out to grab poles as to not go flying into one’s neighbor. I leave the little train, and though I’ll be back on it soon enough, every ride is a little different. Each time I meet someone new – like a man reading ‘herlock sholmes’ or a little bug-eyed girl – even though I don’t really meet them at all. The metro continues to be a wonder; the experience has yet to get old. It is maybe the dirtiest, most unkempt, and least appealing part of the city, yet there is always something to see, some little joy to be had. Oh, the sweet silence of the metro.
written today on the metro. close your eyes and see it!