My feet tap against the tiles of Union Station’s northbound platform, more from the music resonating from my ear buds than from impatience. Tapping in rhythm to the tune that sounds in my ears, the tips of my boots threaten the yellow border that lines the platform.
Couples, families, and best friends surround me. Despite being alone, I do not feel lonely in the slightest. After all, I have these strangers, a weathered copy of my favourite book, and my music to keep me company. That is enough for me on this chilly winter evening in Toronto.
Two circular lights emerge from the darkness of the tunnel. The train whisks by me, sending loose strands of my hair into a flurry. I can’t help but smile at the excitement of the little girl beside me. The gust of wind is nearly strong enough to send her flying if not for her father’s strong but gentle grip on her hand. Her pigtails flap behind her as she giggles. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve ridden the subway with my father. Did I wear pigtails? Did my eyes glimmer with such incredulity at the seemingly impossible speed of an incoming subway train? Did he hold my hand with the same grip of a gentle giant? I certainly hope so.
The family, couple, friends, and various other strangers pile into my subway cart. Preferring to stand, I lean against the back door. The sound of the doors closing brings a man rushing in. The double doors brush his tailored jacket, still damp from the snow outside. He stands directly in front of me.
With the insignificant noises of the subway drowned out by the voice echoing from my ear buds, I can’t help but wonder about this man. He’s tall, probably six feet at least. He seems to be in his late forties or early fifties, bits of gray peeking through his slicked-back hairdo. Judging by the nice jacket and shiny leather briefcase, he seems to be quite well-off. Perhaps he is a lawyer? Or, maybe, he’s the CEO of a big company. Is he married? Does he have kids? Grandchildren? Perhaps, after a long day of signing papers, he’s heading home to his wife for their twentieth wedding anniversary. Or, maybe, his husband. He gets off the subway at Dundas station before I can make any further speculations.
My attention turns towards the teenage couple sitting to my right. Both the boy and girl have black headphones. The girl has hers around her neck, and the boy has his on. They both have blue streaks in their jet-black hair. They hold hands, but they do not look in love. There are subtle mascara stains underneath the girl’s electric blue eyes. Between the boy’s brows is a crease that could either be temporary or permanent, but I can’t really tell. I can see that the girl’s knuckles have turned white from her grip on the boy’s hand. Is it from anger, or from the desire to not let him go? What happened? Are they in an argument? Why did they argue? Was this the boy’s fault, or the girl’s? Will they break up, or will they end up getting married? They exit at Eglinton station, leaving me with unanswered questions.
Two boys to my left erupt into fits of laughter. The boy with a varsity jacket and quarterback good looks playfully punches his friend. The second boy has tousled hair and wears a wool coat, a collared shirt peeking out from underneath. They both look to be around eighteen to nineteen years old. Intuitively, my gut tells me the two are best friends. Have they been best friends since they were children? Were their parents best friends? Did they spend their entire lives together? I can see that both are very different. Were they always different? Or did they change in high school? Perhaps the one in the varsity jacket was on the football team, and the one in the preppy coat and oxford shoes was captain of the debate team. Or, maybe, it was the other way around. Do they still go to the same school? Will they continue to be best friends? I certainly hope so. They get off at North York Centre station, still laughing.
The automated subway voice interrupts my thoughts on the man with the top hat, the teenage couple, and the attractive best friends: “Next stop is terminal station: Finch. Finch station.” As I exit the train, it dawns on me that I am once again as alone as I was forty minutes ago at Union station. Except, now, I am no longer in the company of strangers. Although they have all left, their stories still only a sketch in my mind and so very strange, they no longer feel like strangers. And, walking away from the train, I can’t help but wonder: what story did they write for me?