He’d been alone in his seat for some time when a wall-eyed young man, as torn and disordered as yesterday’s newspaper, wandered down the aisle. They glanced at each other and Felipe offered the apparently homeless man a smile.
That was invitation enough. The raggedy man swung into the seat next to Felipe and began an animated conversation in a language so garbled that not a word could be understood. It was obvious he had a disability and perhaps it had been an accident that had left his yellowed teeth so broken and missing.
The man took two pesos from his pocket and gestured to them while continuing his prattle. Felipe pretended he understood while suppressing his dawning alarm—triggered not so much by the man’s manner or his appearance—but because he smelled so horrifically of a combination of urine and feces. Felipe was trapped by the overwhelming odor in the enclosed warmth of the subway car. But still he responded to the stream of gibberish, “You don’t say? Oh really? Imagine that!” as if speaking to a friend. Their fellow passengers backed away, repelled by the piercing stench.
Inexplicably, the raggedy man took hold of Felipe’s nearest arm and pulled it around his shoulders and began to cuddle. Felipe felt revulsion, but he made no move to extract himself. The raggedy man moved Felipe’s hand to the top of his greasy head. Felipe patted his head dutifully, all the while hoping that it would end soon.
”Everyone was looking at us like we were crazy,” Felipe explained when he told me the story of what had happened.
“Well, why didn’t you just get up and end it?” I asked him.
“I felt sorry for him. I thought that more than anything he wanted some love and it was evident that he hadn’t gotten any in a long time. He was very lonely. I knew because I was sad and lonely that day.”
The raggedy man put Felipe’s hand on his cheek and winced in pain to tell Felipe that his teeth were hurting badly. Felipe winced back, his expression acknowledging the man’s suffering while silently praying that his own “sacrifice” would be repaid someday.
“I wished we’d arrive at my station, so I could leave,” he told me, “but we arrived at his station first. Before he left, the man took my face in his hands and kissed me on the cheek. He seemed to be very happy. Then he limped away.”
“You wouldn’t think it was possible, but after the man left the train the smell seemed to get stronger. Maybe I was just more aware of how strong it really was, but when he was gone I couldn’t tolerate it and moved to another car.”
(Today’s post was written by guest writer, award winning Monica Rix Paxson, author of “Dead Mars, Men are from Venus” and “Kiss me once, kiss me twice, kiss me once again, it’s been a long, long time.”)