His timing was all wrong. I was on the subway platform, tired and hungry after a long day’s work, when I saw him out the corner of my eye. His look lingered longer than it should have and I just knew he was going to say something. I braced for impact, jamming my earbuds further into my ear to signify that I was busy grooving. I even averted my eyes, so he wouldn’t take any accidental eye contact as an incentive to proceed.
But it didn’t stop him. He tapped me on my shoulder anyway.
I sighed before removing the right earbud, deciding not to be rude that day.
“I like your shirt.”
I was wearing a black and white screen printed Tupac shirt. Though I still wasn’t trying to have a full on conversation, his compliment and my assumption that he was a Pac fan, took a bit of the edge off. I smiled politely and said thank you, slowly raising the hand containing my dangling earbud back to my ear.
Before I could get there he had something else to say, more small talk. He told me his name was Soils, pronounced just like it’s spelled. I had him repeat it for me a couple of times to make sure I heard it correctly. Soils… Soil…Dirt…Earth…Growth. I kind of dug that. (Ha, ha! Get it?) Seriously, there was strength behind it. And my guard came down just a little bit more. I asked him where he was from. (South Africa.) He asked me where I was from (Indianapolis.) Before I knew it, my train…our train was pulling up and we hopped on together, holding tightly to the bar in the middle of the car as we talked about my career as a writer, his career as a musician, the state of Missouri and my love for Aretha Franklin—who I was trying to listen to when he tapped me. Before I knew it, I found myself smiling…chuckling even. I’m not the jokey joke type when it comes to randoms and here I was skinning my teeth with a complete stranger. Slowly, I started to notice his facial features. He actually was the color of dark, rich soil, had almost-shoulder length locs , genuine eyes and a decent smile. I remember thinking, This is weird. We are really gelling right now. This is weird. Maybe my thought prevented me from noticing that he’d pulled out his cell phone (an old flip phone, I noted) and was asking me for my number.
Prickles of panic danced across my skin as I thought about this proposition.
It was one thing to be having a nice, pleasant conversation but I was… involved with “someone else” at the time and I just didn’t know how me giving my number out to a stranger on the subway would make him feel… or make me feel, honestly. But we had such a nice little chat, so I gave him my number. After all, I rationalized, I couldn’t even define what me and “someone else” had. He admitted that he missed his subway stop and then jetted off, across the platform.
That night, in a moment of purging, I confessed to “someone else” about my encounter. Explaining how even though he and I were miles apart and had agreed to be cool if one of us found us somebody, I still felt guilty for giving him my number. “Someone else” assured me that I shouldn’t feel guilty and reiterated the suckiness of our, long distance, non-committal situation. I hung up the phone, feeling closer to “someone else,” resigning to ignore Soils if he ever reached out.
The next day, he reached out.
He texted me telling me good morning and later invited me to one of his shows.
The prickles came back again. Luckily, I had a prior engagement.
Then a couple of hours later, he informed me of a free Aretha Franklin concert. He remembered. That’s sweet. But I legit couldn’t make that either.
Then a few days later, on a rainy week day, he told me to stay dry and joked about someone taking off their shoes exposing their soggy, stinky feet. I chuckled but decided not to respond. I was too confused about my attraction, what it would do to “someone else” and getting Soils mixed up in it. But instead of communicating all of that I just ignored his little anecdote. And that was the last time I heard from him.
Now, a year later, “someone else” is out of the picture.
I didn’t know Soils well enough to miss him or even regret my decision not to engage. But sometimes when I’m on the subway platform after work, I wonder if I’ll run into him again.
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