Time to Settle Accounts
January 31, 2011: A request.
The train car is full of bodies when I board downtown. I hear the voice – Doors closing – and see the conductor’s head poking out of his window at the front of the train as he scans the back for people like me, the commuters last to arrive and squirting on just before departure. I step in past the door, just barely, my big coat and back pack doing their best to lean past the threshold. There is no place for my feet to move, and I must arch my back inward so that the doors may shut behind me. They do.
Scrunched at the other side is a young man with an eager face who catches eyes with me once the doors shut and returns my cross-train smile with an enthusiastic, “Have your portrait drawn?”
An older man in an overcoat standing next to me rolls his eyes in simpatico. “My portrait?” I yell back across the train. All I can see is the young man’s head. “Yes,” he says, and he holds up his sketch pad. “I don’t want money.”
“Okay,” I say, and from across the train the young man begins to draw, looking up through the bodies and then down at his pad and then up at me again. The door opens behind him at the next stop, and more people get off than on, and when there is room he walks over to us and continues drawing. I can nearly see the sheet but I try not to look until he is done. “I don’t want to look until it is finished,” I say.
“Good idea,” says the older man with another eye roll. The young man does not seem to hear the comment, and when he finishes he rips it out and hands it over. I hold it up for the older man to see. “Pretty cool, huh?”
The older man still behaves as if we are teammates, only now I have helped an opponent up from the turf, and the older man tries not to roll his eyes as he says, “Hey, you know,” and then laughs a bit and exits the train at the next stop.
The young man is still standing next to me, and finds another willing subject. “I just like to draw,” he says, and I notice that he has a few different colored pencils poking from his jacket, though he used only one for mine. “I used to just come on the train and start drawing people, but they didn’t like that,” he says.
He finishes the sketch and hands it to the subject and then asks around, but most people shake their heads and return their eyes to their phone or book or to the floor or blankly in front of them and seem nervous that he might ask again. “People always think you’re asking for money,” he says, “that you’re begging. I just want to work at my talents. It’s a good place for that.”
NEXT: One small step. (2.28.11)
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