I squeezed my way into the crowded car. Getting caught in rush hour on the Blue Line was never an enjoyable experience. Like me, most of the passengers would be heading far out into the suburbs, keeping the train packed until near the end of the line. I spotted a pair of empty seats, and dove for the one on the aisle. People are usually deterred from snagging the window seat when it’s mate is occupied. They like to avoid the awkward moment of asking a stranger to stand up for them, watching the commuter pull her purse tight to her body as she sucks in her stomach distrustfully, the requester tripping over her before falling heavily into the seat.
I enjoyed my solitude for only a few seconds. A nervous looking businessman stumbled onto the train, narrowly making it past the double doors. He scanned the car and I saw his eyes examine an empty seat next to a homeless man sleeping in back, and then to mine. I quickly moved to the window seat and immediately glued my eyes to the city blurring past.
“Thank you, miss.”
I glanced at him and smiled politely, and then turned back to the window. I had seen the terrain many times before. The peeling billboards and orange graffiti no longer interested me, and the only sights that delighted me these days were the glimpses of scruffy, plaid-wearing men waiting on the Damen platform.
I went to open my shoulder bag, ready to pull out my book and catch up on Humbert Humbert’s fevered road trip with his little Dolly, Lo, Lolita, when I noticed that my range of motion was severely cut. I tried to move my gangly arms gracefully, and found my elbow bumping into the flesh of the man next to me.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, casting another quick glance to the man next to me.
He shook his head and smiled, but said nothing. His teeth were a dull yellow and his lips were chapped. Those teeth were awfully close to me.
For a moment, I recalled articles linked by angry BBWs who had to pay for two seats on an airline because they were too large to fit into one. I would have been forgiving, me being petite and barely taking up an entire seat myself, but then I noticed that his huge torso eclipsing my view of the aisle was none to big at all. I looked for the space in between our plastic seats. All I saw were his thighs. This bastard was willingly taking up half my seat, cozying up to me, a stranger, on the crowded el during rush hour with no other seats to spare.
Even among my favorite people, I am not a touchy-feely person. I glued my face to my book and squirmed in my seat, pressing my body as close as I could to the window, reaching an unflattering angle to avoid my neighbor’s graze.
That’s when the shaking started.
His elbows cast shadows on the pages of my book. They shook frantically and caused the words to bounce and jumble together. I imagined the grey shadows and white pages causing an epileptic sensation. The pages flickered back and forth; grey white grey white grey white. The man had wrapped his arms around his briefcase, now hugged against his chest. The tremor spread to his legs, and then the entire seat trembled with him. I wanted to tie him down. I was trying to devise a way to acquire rope on the train when, to my horror, I felt his elbow drill into my breast.
His face red, he whispered, “sorry.”
He did not stop shaking. I could see him sweating, concentrating hard, and I could only assume that he was desperately trying to make his body come to a standstill. He looked so embarrassed, so helpless.
I decided that he had Parkinson’s disease.
Yes, that was it. It was an unfortunate situation, and neither of us could do anything about it. I tried to relax, press myself closer to the window, and look out at the city as his elbow occasionally touched my boob and we both pretended not to notice.
I considered leaving the train a few times. My first idea was to bolt out of the train when it reached Divisoin, run to the car ahead, and continue my journey. I wasn’t sure if I could make it in time. It would be difficult to climb over my seatmate, especially without being groped in the process. The stops were quick, and I would surely miss the train all together. I thought that maybe I could just leave the train and wait for the next one, but I grew self-conscious. I imagined my neighbor watching me leave, glaring at me as I stood on the platform. He would know that the only reason I got off the train was to get away from him. I, the cold-hearted bitch who couldn’t be sensitive to the needs of a middle-aged man with Parkinson’s.
“Are you on your way to work? School?”
Apparently my neighbor was determined to torture me. I thought we had a silent agreement not to acknowledge each other. I thought my discomfort was obvious. Regardless of his condition, I had no intention to chitchat with a man who kept fondling me with his elbow. I felt his breath on my neck.
“I had an interview.”
“Oh, really? What for? Congratulations.”
I shrugged my shoulders, which caused me to bump into him this time. “Thanks.”
He didn’t continue his interrogation. Finally, he sensed that I was at my breaking point. I turned my head from the window to the map of the Blue Line, mentally crossing off the stations passed. California: check. Logan Square: check. Belmont: check. Occasionally I would catch the man looking at me as I tried to look past him.
I grew anxious. There weren’t many stops left to go, and the excitement started to take over. The businessman and I shook together, our bodies bobbing up and down in perfect synchronization. We were quite the pair.
The car mechanically croaked out, “Harlem,” and I nearly jumped out of my seat. My stop was next. It was perfectly acceptable for passengers to stand by the exists before they reached their station, even if their was a five minute interval between stops. I thrust my book into my bag, knocking elbows with the man, not caring this time. Let him touch me all he wants, I’m getting the hell out of here. As politely as I could, I gestured towards the exit, already halfway on top of the man as I tried to climb over.
When I reached the aisle, he gently touched my arm. “Is this your stop? Thank you.”
I didn’t understand why he was thanking me. Maybe he had a long history of young women abandoning him on trains. Perhaps I made his day, his week, his year, by toughing it out and enduring the entire ride. Suddenly, I was proud of myself. I, the good Samaritan who kindly ignored businessmen suffering from Parkinson’s.
But then, as if in slow motion, the man leaned over slightly and lifted his body off the part of my former seat that he had encroached upon. He rolled his shoulders back and relaxed. The briefcase hung loosely from his arms, his hands grasped firmly about the handle. His feet were planted to the floor. The plastic seat was silent. No more tremors. Not a single twitch.
The bastard had gone Keyser Soze on me!
The train rolled into Cumberland. I stepped onto the platform in a daze. I endured that ride, forty minutes of hell, sympathizing with a man who faked uncontrollable shaking just so he could get free shots at my chest. It shouldn’t have been worth the effort. Why molest an A-Cup when there’s double D’s abound? I trudged to the staircase, thinking about the three showers I would take later that night. On Monday, I’d have to head back downtown. The Blue Line would be packed again and I would most likely have to surrender my seat to yet another pervert preying on my polite social graces.
Fuck it. I’m taking Metra.