2 of 2 occurrences marked by the author on the coldest Valentine’s Day in NYC recorded history.
It was on Valentine’s Day at about 9pm on the C train, heading towards Brooklyn, clacking all the way and screeching in the turns. A black man about 60 reclining back, long legs spread wide on either side of two giant bags full of recent purchases (a small appliance in one; an inflatable mattress in the other) stacked one on top of the other. The train wasn’t very crowded, so no one cared that he took up so much space. Dressed in a nice coat, with nice black slacks and nice walking shoes. Blue knit cap. Takes a Corona out of one of the bags, opens it quick and starts drinking, hiding it in the open bag between swigs. His underjaw juts a little too far forward. He is tall and though starting to age a little in the face and getting a little paunchy in the middle, still looks pretty strong, sturdy, vigorous. He looks forward beneath his knit cap with a slight pursed smile–like both his eyes and lips purse forward a little in a gamesome smiling.
A heavyset gumdrop-shaped (while seated anyway) black lady; 40ish; light brown skin; with big thighs in tight green sweats (of a substantial fabric and probably with at least tights beneath–there was a heartiness to the outfit that reminded one of a thick layer of blubber). A thick brown jacket coat, open for the train ride and with a light blue hooded sweatshirt beneath. Leaning forward with her elbows on her thighs, one hand holding a nice new athletic backpack, the other holding a clear cup with some milky coffee drink. Looking towards the rubbery subway flooring; tired half-opened lizard eyes; mouth a little compressed, forcing her round, full cheeks out a bit more. A tired person, done for the day.
The man across from her pulls a bouquet of flowers out of one of his bags and presents it to her, gesturing it forward as he asks if she’d like them. Her face lights up. She smiles big and overawed like she’s about to burst out with delighted laughter. But she doesn’t laugh. She accepts the flowers with a big smile. Smells them. “Thank you! Thank you!” He gives a little nod and takes another swig of his beer, which makes her big grateful eyes wobble a bit, but not drastically. “I’m going to put these next to my heart tonight–when I sleep–I’m going to keep them next to my heart.” He, with half-shut cool eyes and a knowing half-smile and half backwards-nod (as in you nod backwards–assenting) says, “be well.” She has a mild Brooklyn accent. She repeats her plan and he repeats, “Be well!”
He finishes that beer and begins another (he drank the last beer in about a minute). She is still smiling over at him, and so she notices the quick beer progression. She’s sitting up a little more now–still leaning a bit forward but no longer with her arms on her shoulders and no longer looking down–looking towards him with a shy, blink-away-and-return smile. Now she pulls her shoulders back and straightens up and looks up and over to him, her gaze arching: “I don’t like beer” she says smiling thin, shaking her head a little from side to side. “Me neither” he says with a pouty smile. “I used to drink that–when I was a teenager–but …” He nods slight, judicious. She turns to one side, looking now down the fuselage, not quite across. At the next spot she looks around from side to side, as if she isn’t sure if this is her stop or not; then she gets off, thanking him again as she leaves, “thank you papi, thank you papi, thank you!–!”
At that stop a tall pretty early-40s thin black woman with high cheekbones and an elegant, shoulders-back, chin-up ease strolls on the subway. She stands by the pole by the door–diagonal to the man with the flowers and the beer. She’s left her faux-fur-lined hood up. He takes out another bouquet and offers it to her. She smiles but with a skeptical twist in her lips, small nose, big eyes: “No!” with that fixed smile through knitted brow and ironic eyes that one gives to a perhaps harmless but still dubious proposal. He, with a slight forward-shrug, puts the bouquet away and sips his beer.
He got off when we got off. I saw it.
Witness: AMW, dramatic recreation: BW; accuracy we can vouch for: not all the details, but something like this.