Shoulders touching, speaking in quiet, intimate tones, their body language suggests serious and committed couple, if not married, living together. They are bland, unobtrusive and I quickly forget about them until the squeak.
Short, high pitched, like the cry of some, furtive creature trapped and in pain. I was sure it came from their direction, but there was no sign of distress. However, she was staring at him with a strange intensity. She says nothing but gives him a quick, sharp pinch on the cheek. He blinks, but continues to look straight ahead, calm without emotion. Wordlessly, he places the knuckle on his right hand on her thigh and grinds it into her flesh. Her mouths opens, eyes widen, she sucks in her breath producing that odd, little squeak.
When he removes his hand, she sighs. She looks intently at his expressionless profile, places the tip of her high heel on his polished leather shoe and presses down. He shuts his eyes, the corners of his mouth turn down, but he stares straight ahead. The train rumbles on, the color drains from his face as he silently and stoically endures the pain, finally she lifts her shoe.
He bends and briefly massages his foot. When he straightens, he takes her hand, holds it gently in his left hand and with his right presses his thumbnail into the back of her hand. There are only a few passengers left after Castro and none but me hear the tiny whimper escape as her body trembles, but she refuses to pull away. Tears run down her cheek. He releases her hand and they lean back into their seats.
At West Portal, they stand and he moves aside to let her exit first. As the train departs, they walk down the platform, arm in arm.
Steve Abney lives and writes in San Francisco, CA, where he also works as an ESL coach. This piece is drawn from his Muni Moments series of public-transportation vignettes.
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