On the express

She looks a little like my grandmother, perfect posture, haughty without cause, clutching her hands together a little too tightly. Her glance flits around and lands on me. “Does this train go to Edgewood Road?”

I get up and look at the map. It’s doesn’t. She needs the local. “Thank you,” she says, then crosses her arms over her purse in her lap. Her face quickly scrambles to a skeptic’s frown. It’s not the answer she wanted, and she’s not buying it.

The doors open, close. She asks me again three times, once after each stop. She still doesn’t believe me but now she starts talking.

“I tell you, I have lived here 50 years and never been on the subway, not once. I drive everywhere. I called my daughter, she lives in Long Island and she didn’t know. She’s never done this either. I said to her, fine, okay, someone will help me. I’ll be brave. Fifty years.” She laughs a tiny bird’s laugh.

There’s a man in a peacoat next to me. He scratches his beard and looks up. “You can change to the local anywhere,” he says.

“Here?” she asks each time the doors open. “Anywhere,” he replies every time.

I tell him, “I’m getting off in a few stops, I can take her.” I don’t know why I say it to him first and only after that to her. She’s tapping her shoes together and when the train slows I reach out my hand. “Come,” I say, and she takes my bent arm as if we’re going out for a stroll. On the platform, I remind her which train, and start to walk away.

“Wait.” I turn back and her eyes beg. “I’m so scared,” she says quietly, holding up her hand to show me the tremors.

I never want to be that fragile, the translucent skin and innocent fear. “I’ll stay with you.” I ask her name, where she’s from, she hangs onto my hand as we pass a few minutes and then the local rolls in. I step onto the train with her, settle her in a seat, and jump off just as the doors close.

Back on the platform what I want is somehow to find the man from the express. I want to tell him. Her name is Esther. She’s from France. She held my hand. It’s beautiful, and futile, I want a witness and have none.

After a moment I think something else. You never know in this city, everyone has their hustle. It can’t be, I think, but I do it anyway, I check for my wallet.

It was still there.