I remember a character from this old movie about sailing, say that men were not meant to be in the water, it just wasn’t natural. I feel that they are not meant to be underground either. The city can be a jungle of wheels. Sometimes I feel that cars could be staked on top of each other in streets and there still wouldn’t be enough space for all of them. But even during the peak of rush hour, when a five-minute walk could become a twenty-minute drive, I avoid descending into the subway. Sometimes though, it’s unavoidable.
It’s evening and the subway car is underpacked. I’m going back home, to the center of the city from the outskirts of it. There seems to be an air of tiredness connecting all the people. People heading home from work, or school or practice. Most Georgians like to stare, to observe. On a bus, they’ll turn their heads to look at the people who get on and then go back to staring out the window. Everyone has their own seat, facing someone’s back. Observing requires a conscious effort. But in the subway, we face each other. The windows show blackness with fleeting hints of shades that zoom by. So we stare at the people instead. It’s rare to see someone reading, and almost impossible to find someone on their laptop. Some people play on their phones sometimes, some listen to music. The others stare.
I’m sitting by the door. An easy exit. A couple in their late fifties, with greying hair sits opposite me to the right. The woman looks at me once, then focuses on the floor for the rest of the trip as the man talks to her, but he keeps glancing over. She’s dressed in all black, her skirt touching the dirty floor. I can see traces of shiny white nail polish, which used to be popular in the nineties. She clutches a black fake leather purse with faded straps and edges. The man is wearing a dark blue shirt, with three buttons down the chest. They’re all open. He focuses on my clothes before getting to my face. From time to time his brows furrow and he loses his train of thought, but quickly regains composure. I’m wearing severely torn jeans and an oversized, brown fur coat. My knit hat has two Mickey Mouse-like pom-poms on either side. It’s February.
There are four boys on the edge of manhood sitting opposite me to the right. They’re talking loudly, laughing about obscenities, making fun of each other. They glance around shamelessly, without hesitation. Their clothes are a variety of black, dark grey and blues. One of them take out a cigarette and lights it. Everyone glances over, but says nothing. He takes a couple of drags and puts it out on the seat. The girl sitting directly opposite me, is wearing simple clothes, no jewelry, no makeup. Her skin is pale. Her eyes are brown. You can tell she’s not from the center of town, maybe not even from the city originally. Her brown hair is tied back into a ponytail. She keeps her legs tightly together. Concentrates on the blackness outside the window, makes sure not to look over at the boys. They start talking about her, knowing she can hear, making comments like: “Hey didn’t you say you were into brunettes earlier man ?” They glance over at me as well. I stare back so they lose interest.
We stop at a station and two kids walk in by themselves wearing oversized flip-flops. A girl and a boy, no older than seven. They both turn serious when they enter. They have dark skin and hold dirty white plastic cups. The boy stands in front of the door leading into the other car and starts shouting for us to help them while the girl walks around with her cup.
“Please help us, may God bless you!!!” The boy is hysterical; we’ve all heard a similar pitch before. We hang our heads and stare at the floor, ashamed for our lack of sympathy, but also annoyed at the noise they’re causing. Only one person puts money in her cup. When the girl finishes her round, the boy makes his. After they decide they won’t make any more money, they start laughing and spinning. They go over to passengers and make fun of them. The girl comes over to me and laughs at my hat. I smile at her. She asks to have one of my rings, but I say no. I say it was a present and smile again. The little boy goes over to the four boys sitting opposite me. They start talking to him and instantly seem to discover a common tongue.
The children exit on the following stop and stick their small tongues out at us before heading into the next subway car. An old woman enters dressed in all black with a black veil hiding her face. She holds a plastic cup in one hand and an icon of the Virgin Mary in the other. She starts praying and asking for help. We hang our heads and stare at the floor.