This is an update from the B.A.R.T. control center. Please remember that there is no eating, drinking, or smoking on B.A.R.T. trains.
Ruby rested against the pole in the middle of the car. If she leaned, she didn’t have to touch anything. Commuters back in New York never would have let her take up so much space, but she’d been lucky in Oakland—people seemed to give her more room.
Giggling babies. Seven Signs He’s Cheating. Hamster on a Piano. Facebook was the literature of commuters. It was all crap, but she checked her feed anyway out of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.
Now departing 19th Street Oakland. This is a San Francisco-Millbrae train.
As the doors tried to swing shut, a single bare leg thrust itself between them causing them to bounce back open. A man jumped in, sweaty and panting. His clothes were meticulously clean, but they were all out style. His tie was last season and his button down shirt was short sleeve, which was never acceptable, and cut too boxy. Ruby placed it circa 2007, a relic of the pre-metrosexual craze. The rest of him was more shocking than his bad taste–between his shirt and cheap faux-leather shoes, there was nothing. Nothing, that is, except bright white Fruit of the Looms. The pair must have been torn from its plastic wrapper no less than an hour ago.
“Jesus! Can’t you hold the train? You all saw me running for it.”
No one even looked up at him. It was a collective thought: Do not stand next to me.
As the man squirmed through the school of commuters toward Ruby, she could not help but stare. His head nearly brushed the top of the train, and his body shape was as terrifying as his height—a great upright praying mantis with an impossibly flabby belly pulling at the buttons of his shirt.
She tried to create a little space, but the woman behind her slammed an elbow into Ruby’s rib. “Move over. So gross!” The woman spit the words out with more hate than Ruby was accustomed to.
The man fixed his blue eyes on the woman and scowled, “Sorry, you have to make room for everyone, lady.” She didn’t hear him. Maybe she didn’t want to. He jerked his head toward Ruby, and leaning in close said, “Can you believe these assholes moving out to the East Bay, jacking up our rent?”
Ruby didn’t respond.
“Holy Moses, it’s hot as hell in this shitbox.” He thrust his hand out. “I’m Miles.”
“Leave me alone.” Ruby unlocked her phone and opened Farm Heroes Saga, examining him out of her periphery.
“You don’t have to be rude. We are all in this together: This great machine, this great commute.” He shrugged with vaudevillian exaggeration and gestured toward his legs. “I assume that the fact that I am not wearing any pants is the source of your animosity?”
He bother anyone else. He ignored them and they ignored him—a silent agreement Ruby was not privy to.
The train lurched to the left. Its abrupt stop smacked her against Miles. She reached her hands out, an instinct, and they sunk deep into the soft cushion of his revolting belly.
Sorry, folks. We’ll be holding here for just a moment. There’s a medical emergency at Montgomery station.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
Miles swung his willowy arms above his head, “Give her some air!”
“Why? Who cares what they think. Look around. They pretend I don’t exist.” He examined her for a beat too long before his eyes went gentle, “Do they ignore you too?”
“We all ignore each other. I’d like to ignore you too. Stop talking to me.”
Okay, everyone. Hold on. We are clear for Embarcadero. Thanks for your patience and thanks for riding B.A.R.T.
“Do you want to know why I’m not wearing pants?”
Ruby screwed her face up into her most deadly look. “No, I don’t. But I imagine your goal is to make us all uncomfortable. Well, you won.” Miles recoiled as if slapped.
“I guess I thought you’d understand.”
“Why on earth would I understand? Now, go away.”
The doors slid open. Commuters moved out of the train and onto the platform at Embarcadero station. Miles bent over and picked up his briefcase. He paused for a moment to look at Ruby. The swarm of people moved around him, in front of him, through him. From somewhere deep and unexpected, Ruby felt shame. He turned on his heel and walked out without looking back. The train felt empty.
She moved toward the doors anticipating the timing to Montgomery station. After three years on the same route, she had it down to a science. Today, Ruby wanted to be the first one on the escalator. The first one out the turnstile. The first one onto the street.
“Excuse me, honey?” An old, wrinkled woman jabbed the back of Ruby’s thigh with her cane.
“Am I in your way?
“No, sweetie. But I think you forgot something this morning.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, what?”
“Your pants. Young lady, you forgot to put your pants on.”
Ruby caught her reflection in the train windows. She wore her favorite grey silk blouse, a black suit coat (meeting with her boss), soft black leather heels, and nothing else from the waist down except white cotton bikinis. The kind you bought at Walgreens.
The doors tore open at Montgomery. Ruby ran a hand through her hair to straighten it. She popped her ear buds in and stepped among the swirls of commuters racing along the platform. For a moment the old woman could make her out among the others, the bright white panties bobbing like a buoy in the water, and then, just like that, Ruby was gone.