Sitting on the subway and minding my own business was suddenly made incalculably more difficult when she got on the train. As her feet crossed the threshold of the platform, the warm fall day seemed to permeate the metal sides of the train raising the temperature several degrees. Tossing her reddish-brown hair over the left shoulder, she glanced around the sparsely populated car. I couldn’t help but notice her perfect fitting black baby doll t-shirt tucked seamlessly into a pair of waist-high skinny jeans which tapered at the ankle. Her red canvass flats matched the lush red of her lipstick which was the only makeup she was wearing. Two small pewter lighthouses dangled mysteriously from her earlobes, guiding my thoughts through the tempestuous churning beginning just below my navel.
My stomach did a somersault as she took the seat across from me. There were maybe three other people in this particular car. We made eye contact briefly and I looked away, hurriedly feigning a profound interest in the misspelled National Guard recruiting poster above. Moments later the girl took out a brown hardcover book with black binding on the spine. There was no dust cover and the tome was sans title. Naturally, I was intrigued. Her eyes flicked up at me again and then back down at the leaves of her book.
“What are you reading?” No. “I like your red Toms.” Even worse. “Hi, my name is Cyrus.”
No way, none of those are acceptable ways of initiating conversation. If I’ve learned anything from my time back in America, it certainly isn’t acceptable to strike up a random conversation with strangers. It immediately brands you as a “creep” or a “weirdo.” I certainly wouldn’t want this young lady to deem me basic, as if her stunning outward appearance were the only thing I was interested in getting to know.
Before I could arrive at the most appropriate way to parlay my doubt into a decent conversation, a scruffy looking fellow stumbled over. Pungently perfumed with the scent of stale malt liquor, he took the initiative that I had been lacking.
“Hey girl, where you goin’?”
Bracing myself to feel an onslaught of discomfort and secondhand embarrassment, the lady gracefully disengaged without the slightest bit of awkwardness or demeaning the enterprising gentleman in the slightest. Great. If it was unacceptable to strike up a conversation before, that guy just totally torpedoed any possibility.
As I continued to admire the ads posted above the opposite row of windows, I noted another gentleman step onto the train. Completely immersed in his smartphone, he glanced around the car and took a seat a few spaces to my right. Furiously swiping left and right on his phone, this man was on a mission. Now he’s typing something, furtively glancing around between words. I watch his dancing fingers, looking to avoid the temptation to stare at the pretty girl. After a few minutes of this, I return to watching Chicago’s majestic skyline from the window, counting stops.
The girl, balancing the book, spine up, on her knee, has taken out her phone. A smile flickers across her face as she looks around the train.
“Hi, Greg?” she asks with only a hint of apprehension in her voice.
“Hey nice to meet you. Carey, right?” he replies without hesitation.
“What? How was this happening?” I marveled to myself, and continued to listen.
“Yeah that’s right, crazy that we’re both right here and we matched.”
“I know, right?”
They begin to chat animatedly and over the course of the next four stops the newly matched pair covered Carey’s book, Greg gave appropriate comments about her lighthouse earrings, and they covered topics ranging from the Cubs to their daily occupations. Are you kidding me? I was struck dumb by my apparent lack of dating app prowess.
By the time I stood up to get off, Greg and Carey had already made plans to hang out the following weekend and exchanged numbers. While stigmatized behavior to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the train or in a coffee shop, the use of a dating app to do the same thing was completely acceptable. Though I have no concept of the smooth first text message game of Greg, Surely the same approach, as demonstrated by the malt liquor man, would not have been effective in a random, first-time, face-to-face encounter.
“On Fleek, Swipe Right” is my first attempt at fiction in over a decade. I welcome any feedback you may have!