However this week I was reminded how all these bodies around me are actually humans with stories.
I approached the older woman tentatively. She had a bright blue dress on with coral flowers and smelled like African incense. Her hair was tied into a large piece of stiff fabric that felt exotic, tribal and looked difficult to put on. One of her weathered hands rested on a brown wooden cane and the other clenched the handle of a broken green roller suit case. I'm still not sure what country she was from in Africa but it was safe to say that she did not know how to get to Queens.
She smiled at me as I played charades explaining that I to was stopping at 42nd street and could help her transfer. I grinned back and without saying a word to each other but standing like teammates we waited for the train. Eventually the screaming Q line came blundering through the station and screeched to a halt. I grabbed her 2 bags and broken roller bag (that I SWEAR was full of rocks) and bumped my way on, turning to give her a hand through the crowd. I then used my "Mj stink eye" to glare someone out of their seat and let my new African grandma sit comfortably.
I have never been to Queens before, so when trying to find her next transfer I made a couple of mistakes- I went up the elevator but should have taken it down a floor, then dragged her broken rock filled roller bag and all our other belongings, (totaling at 6 bags) halfway down the wrong end of the platform before realizing there weren't any stairs. The whole time she hobbled cane in hand behind me repeating "Jamaica Center, Queens" and I mumbled curse words between getting us lost and giggling at how funny this situation was. What a pair, us two.
As a proud usher of the underground we finally made it to the right platform right as her next train was arriving. It was more full than the first one, so I spoke extra loud when the doors opened and explained what stop she needed to transfer. She had a 50 minute ride to Queens and it was getting late, so I let her continue on her journey without me. I felt a pang of responsibility for this 80 year old, wrinkly African beauty. Similar to the feeling parents probably feel when they send their kids to kindergarten, so I looked around and locked eye contact with a plain looking girl with short hair and a yellow blouse, did a half nod and looked back to my new friend. It was a game of NYC tourist tag and she was it.
There weren't any words exchanged in the 20 minutes of time we spent together except "God bless you" as I hopped out of her train car and waved goodbye. What a nice reminder that we are all humans in this world, just trying to connect our trains.