by Jonathan J.B. Mijs
I sit down next to a young couple. His jeans are ripped and have holes
at the knees. He lets his head hang low. She reeks of alcohol, and
she’s constantly squinting her eyes. It takes three times for them
to notice someone sitting across saying, ‘sir, you dropped your wallet’,
and another two for him to pick it up from the subway floor.
On the next stop, three generations of Middle Eastern women walk in:
a young girl, around 7 years old, her mother, and her mother’s mother.
The girl carries a baby doll. They look for three seats but have to settle
for two. A stranger separates mom from grandma. As they are about to
sit down, I notice that the woman next to me has stood up and is moving
over to them. ‘Take my seat’, she says, dragging her boyfriend with her to
free up three adjoining seats. The three thankfully take the seats next to
me, replacing the young couple.
The girl cheerfully talks to her mom all the while holding the baby doll
close to her chest. Grandma watches them, smilingly.
The couple, now seated across from me, are struggling to stay awake.
They look like they’re falling apart; going down after a long, druggy, trip.
Then the woman notices the baby doll. It triggers something in her. There
is a sparkle in her eyes. She recovers somewhat, sits upright. Says to the
little girl, ‘you have a cute baby there!’ A short pause, then, ‘I want a baby.’
The girl looks at her mom, who smiles back at her. Then she looks to the
women, beaming. ‘What’s her name?’, the woman continues. The girl’s
mother translates. ‘What language are you speaking?’ asks the woman.
‘Arabic, but she understands English.’
‘Nathalie,’ the girl says, ‘Nathalie!’ She gets up, walks over to the woman
sitting across, hands her the doll, and returns to her seat. The woman is
startled for a moment, then says ‘thanks, that’s a pretty name’ and looks at
the baby doll. For a moment she disappears into thoughts. When she recovers
she pokes her boyfriend. He half-opens his eyes for just a second before closing
them again. She smiles and says ‘Thank you for letting me hold your baby’.
She sighs, inhales deeply, and gets up to return the doll. The girl takes the doll
back, but then stands up and again gives the woman her baby.
‘For you: pink baby.’ The woman sits there in silence looking at the doll for
about a minute, then says, ‘thanks, but… no, it’s yours.’ The girl responds, no—
you!’ pointing at the woman. ‘But… you’ll miss it.’ The girl smiles sagely, and
says, ‘She will buy me new one,’ looking up at her mom. Mother rubs the girl’s
hair as if to say ‘yes, honey, I will.’
The train stops at the next station. The girl, her mother and grandmother get out,
leaving behind a seriously startled woman, her drugged out boyfriend, and her
plastic newborn. That—and a car full of spectators smiling broadly.
Jonathan J.B. Mijs is a Doctoral Candidate in Sociology at Harvard University. When he is not writing about himself in third person, he is studying how (young) people come to see and explain setbacks in their own lives and that of others, which is the topic of his dissertation.
Categories: Sociological Fiction
Tags: sociological fiction