I often find myself sitting on the subway holding my book, not really reading, but watching what everyone is up to around me. Today I hoped no one was watching me.
I left my office around four-thirty scurrying like a rat to get to my five o’clock appointment. I was busy today, but not so busy I couldn’t have left a few minutes earlier. There was no reason for me to be flying down the street grousing at the people who weren’t walking quite as fast as I was on my way to the subway.
I ran down the stairs and slid my MetroCard through the turnstile just as the uptown 1 Train pulled into the station. The train was crowded, but I managed to get a seat. I should have been embarrassed as I rolled my eyes because the woman next to me took up a little more space than the plastic molded seats allowed.
At the 96th Street station a tired-looking woman entered my subway car. She was probably ten years younger than I and looked five years older. Her expression was flat; the look of a woman who struggled to forgive those who felt it was their privilege to be mean to her throughout the day. Her head bobbed down and I heard a crackle – the crackle of a wire being plugged into an amplifier. I was beyond annoyed.
The sound of a disco beat filled the subway car. I never liked disco, even when it was popular, so the thought of being held hostage under ground as the train rumbled its way uptown was unbearable.
And then she sang.
I’m sure I scowled when she started singing “On the Radio.” The thought of listening to a bad rendition of this Donna Summer ‘classic’ from my first year in New York was beyond annoying.
And then I listened as she sang.
Her voice was sweet and clear and pitch-perfect.
Just a few notes into the song she had won me over. The train was pulling into the next stop and I worried that she wouldn’t finish her song.
She sang the song and offered a bit of patter, as she passed her hat, worthy of any nightclub in New York. She came back and sang a bit more of the song.
Her act was timed perfectly. Just a few stops after she boarded the train she left. As the doors opened at 137th Street I felt a pang of sadness that I may never hear the round tones of her voice again.
I took a moment to look at myself and realized just how foolish I’d been – taking myself too seriously, even on a subway ride. And then I realized just how happy this woman, this stranger, had made me with the sound of her beautiful voice.