Little Big Hearts on the Evening Train

I was on the subway tonight, sitting in the small enclave between the sliding doors and the passage to the next car: two-seat benches on either side of the aisle. Next to me was a weary-looking woman with a beautiful headwrap and big earrings. In her arms was a baby with the saddest, brightest eyes I’d ever seen on a human. (I see eyes like that on dogs and sometimes cats.) His sadness didn’t seem to stem from any mistreatment; though visibly tired, the woman was holding him with a tenderness that seemed constant to me. His sadness felt soul-heavy, as if he registered her pain and wished he could do something about it. More than that, he seemed like the kind of very small person who’d been worrying about everything and everybody even before he was sprung from his mother’s body. Perhaps I am a sadist: It made him cuter to me.

I was mulling this over while flirting with the child–trying to make him smile by widening my face until I resembled the Muppet I sometimes joke that I am. Opposite me, two guys sitting together gently laughed. One of them was big, brawny, very dark-skinned with tattooed muscles, a thick gold chain at the neck, sprawled feet in untied hightops. His boyfriend–for they were very clearly boyfriends–was shorter, more delicate, with a hot pink tee, a loose mop of curls and a coffee-with-cream complexion. They were sharing earphones–one bud in each one’s ear–and the smaller man had his arm and leg wrapped around his beau’s limbs. When I looked up, he mouthed, “So cute.” I nodded emphatically and thumped my heart. He thumped his heart, too. Suddenly I didn’t feel like such a sadist. It was probably a coincidence but the baby smiled big right then, and his happiness, however temporary, seemed like the sweetest gift of all. Even his tired companion grinned.

I felt like crying, I really did. I know I’m a broken record, but there’s been so much upheaval lately that I’m transported by the changes that are good. That these two young men of color could entwine with a public insouciance once reserved only for straight white boys and girls; that we five could reach across divides to greet each other’s kind hearts so swiftly; that this littlest man could allow himself some comfort, however fleeting. Well. I’m glad for all of it.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy