On the subway platform a man paces back and forth. He's what you would call "visibly agitated," only the agitation is taking the form of a great joy he can't seem to contain. Occasionally he sings or hums to himself. Once he shouts "God!" The man is large, bulky, unshaven. He hunches slightly and his eyebrows seem to wed the hair on his head with the hair on his face, making him appear to have a film over his visage. His features are rendered indistinct and one's attention immediately wavers back and forth over his person.
As gross as the man's aspect is, his demeanor by contrast is polite, almost refined. Turning to the woman beside him on the platform, he broaches a conversation with "Good afternoon, ma'am." The woman looks vaguely away from her paper at the childish voice. "I went to dinner at my church. Look what they gave me!" He shows her a ziploc bag containing several items. The woman smiles briefly, murmers, "that's nice."
On the train the man sits down next to a couple - a young man and woman. The woman is tough looking, but beautiful. What we might call swarthy. Her well-formed features are hidden beneath a polartech cap pulled low over her forehead. Her body is swathed in a bright yellow parka. The man next to her is less remarkable. Also young, but with features more hardened and a combatative air.
"Good afternoon, ma'am." The man seems compelled to initiate this interaction.
With a bemused look the woman responds, "good afternoon."
Gesturing at his bag the man asks, "Do you want some toothpaste?"
"No, I don't need any toothpaste."
"Do you want a toothbrush? It's not used."
"Nah, that's cheap. CVS brand? That's cheap."
The woman speaks loudly and deliberately. Her husband looks at her occasionally, incredulous, giggling. The woman nudges him and tells him to shut up. She looks into the bag at the bar of Zest soap inside. "Do you use that soap? That kind of soap's bad. You should use Dove."
"Yeah, I want to use Dove. This soap makes my skin itch. I take a shower every day but my roommate doesn't take showers. He wears the same clothes every day. I tell him 'Carlos, change your clothes!' but he shakes his head. He works down at the hospital."
"Where do you work?"
"I work at the CMM downtown."
"What's that supposed to be?"
"It's a group of churches."
"That's good you work. I work too. I don't take charity. You don't want to take charity right?"
"Yeah, I work. I make money."
There is a pause and then the woman asks, "what stop are you getting off at?"
"Oh, you got a long way to ride."
"What about you?"
"Oh I get off at Alewife. I live in Burlington. My husband and I take the bus."
"Then you take the 50."
"Yeah, we take the 50."
During their conversation the woman has adopted a tone of elevated severity, the kind you might use when attempting to convince a child that you take him seriously. It is unclear whether she is taking him seriously or whether this is an elaborate game to pass the time on the subway.
"Habla Espanol?" the man asks.
"No, I don't speak Spanish."
Taking in the woman's rich skin tone and black eyes, the man asks, "You're not Spanish?"
"No, I'm not Spanish. I'm Italian."
"Bonjourno," the man tries.
"Bonjourno," she places her palm at an angle over her mouth and giggles into it. "What are you?"
"I'm Jewish. But I still go to church."
"Oh." Pause. "Me too. I go to mosque every Saturday."
"What's your name?"
"What's your husband's name?"
The man leans over to shake Sylvester's hand. Sylvester obliges, but looks achingly uncomfortable. Occasionally Sylvester and Samantha converse in Italian. Occasionally they look around the car, make eye contact with other passengers.
At Central, Samantha tells the man it's his stop next. A few minutes before Harvard the man gets up, bids the couple a polite adieu, shakes Sylvester's hand again and wanders over to the door. Then, from across the train, Samantha hears, "Good afternoon, ma'am." He gestures back at his friend, "That's Samantha. She's Italian. Bonjourno Samantha. Bonjourno means hello and goodbye in Italian." Samantha has her head in her hands.
"Isn't goodbye 'Ciao'?" the second woman asks.
"That's right. Ciao Samantha. Do you want to see me do Michael Jackson?"
Samantha says, "do it!" and the man thrusts his head down and shuffles his feet back and forth a few times, in an awkward but irrepressible dance. Samantha, laughing openly, cries "do it again!" He does it again and the train doors open. The man waves as he exits.
"That was the funniest thing I've ever seen," Samantha says to Sylvester. Then, "I was so scared. I was so scared."