Thursday, February 17, 2005

my baby takes the morning train

Yesterday I rode BART to work. I was sitting there looking out the window at the scrapyards and shipping lots, which come into view when you emerge from the tunnel on the Oakland side, when I noticed two people standing by the station map. The first, a young woman, was speaking to a young man in a mix of sign language and English. They were discussing the different stops and the directions the train ran from one side of the bay to the other. I could see that, as well as being deaf, the young man was mentally disabled, and so at first I assumed that she was taking care of him for the day or riding with him as part of an education program. Then, as I turned back to the window, I saw another woman signing energetically to her partner in the seat across. I started to look around. At the front of the car sat an old man pointing out the window and signing with authority to a younger man next to him about the buildings we passed. Right in front of me, three girls sat together having an animated conversation and occasionally breaking into silent laugter. Eventually it dawned on me that, having stepped onto the car alone, I was the only person there not part of this group -- and the only person not currently talking to someone else. Of course I wondered why I hadn't noticed earlier, but then realized that stony silence is de rigeur for BART passengers anyway, so it made sense that I, being totally oblivious to the world in general, would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary. More strange, though, was that I was sitting there amidst a torrent of conversation and I had no idea what was going on. I was completely out of the loop. This provoked an intense flashback to riding on buses in Senegal, which never failed to make me feel both strangely peaceful and desperately lonely. In the midst of all this, the Oakland passing by the window seemed bizarre and foreign, like we were in another country, or the same country a century into the future. I barely regained enough self-awareness to stumble off the train at the downtown stop. When I walked into my office a few minutes later it was shockingly gaudy and familiar, like re-visiting a third-grade classroom. I greeted people like it was years since I had been there last. For the rest of the day I still couldn't shake it off, or even put into words what had knocked me out of place. And later that night, just before I fell asleep, I found myself staring out the window into the dark street and listening for something.

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