People hold on to yellow painted rails above their heads as the underground train moves forward to Russell Square. I lean against the window next to the door to keep my balance. An African man stands across from me, next to two cellophane wrapped suitcases. He holds one orange plastic hanger covered with a flimsy hanging bag. I wonder how far he travelled to get to this place where he sways on the train, if this trip is his first to England.
Further down the tube, a young woman sits in the middle of a row of strangers, extends a compact mirror cupped in her hand like a prop, and gently pats makeup around her eyes with fingertips. She pencils dark brows with the precision of an artist, drawing as if she sits on a stool in front of a private vanity. The audience of scarfed, booted, and head phoned strangers, they evaporate under the muse of her own reflection.
The same way I evaporate as a child sitting tired at the feet of my mother on the cold tile floor of the makeup counters at Famous Barr. I am lost among the sea of purses and high heels, to the promise of beauty in a bottle.
An Asian couple squish in the corner, chewing gum in tandem, her suede booted legs swinging over his. Both wear square glasses and shadow smiles. He kisses her flushed cheek, whispers in her ear and she laughs through whispered conversation inches from his face. They embrace; kiss long as if sitting on the couch in front of the television and empty wine glasses.
I thank God for the way he brings love together, hearts joining magnet, abandoned to the tug of the watching world.
The girl with the auburn ponytail smiles at the young boy dressed skinny black tie. He explains English culture, how only poor people do that. Her long bangs swish around her fair oval face, lapis blue eyes glance away shy, down at her worn black shoes.
I remember the boy that helped me when stranded on indefinite standby in England as a college student. How he helped a vulnerable girl navigate the tube, see Buckingham Palace and find a place to lay her head at night. The way God sent kindness in a moment of panic, to explain the way things work in a culture not my own.
When I step off the train, onto the platform where the music of a lone guitarist echoes through concrete caverns, I think about how I will get in my van alone, hum the tunes of Adele and drive to the grocery store in a few days. Wonder how He will teach me to be brave when I don’t have the luxury of learning from strangers that sway in the silence of busy chaos.