If You Found This, It's For You
I always finished my homework in the subway station on the way to school.
Somehow, the orderly chaos of the roaring, crashing, screeching trains and the echoing, nonsensical babble of the wildly emphatic people surrounding me made the AP physics simpler in my mind.
I liked that no one looked at me twice, that petite girl in the over-sized royal blue sweatshirt sitting cross-legged on one of the many benches. My short, curly dark brown hair curtained my olive face as my pencil sketched out formulas and lines and diagrams on my crinkled graph paper. Hazel would always make a face when I made a physics reference, then proceed to declare me Queen Perpetua of Nerdia and I didn’t even mind. Best friends were allowed to do that. The side of my right hand was stained glistening grey with smudged lead, as always. The musty, claustrophobic smell of the subway almost overwhelmed the light vanilla perfume I liked. My head was down low over my textbook.
If he had not tripped over the bench leg, nothing would have changed.
He barely caught his balance, arms windmilling wildly. I yanked my book from the edge of the bench before it tipped to the floor. He caught himself and nodded sheepishly at me.
I nodded back. He was short and stalky, his hair pale grey and his face carved with years of worry, stress, and sun. Beat up work boots, heavy jeans, hard hat in his hand.
Defeat in his old eyes.
“No problem,” I finally managed. He turned away.
I frowned down at my physics. So the centrifugal force would….Suddenly, it did not matter at all. The sad eyes bored through my memory. That man did not like where he was. He did not like what life was doing to him. That much was obvious to me. Of course, I couldn’t really do anything to fix that, and it wasn’t my responsibility, however much it was sad to admit.
I looked down at the pencil in my hand and at the paper, then up at the man who had tripped. He waited alone by the tracks, waiting for the train to take him to a day just like any other.
Maybe I could shake up the routine at least a little.
Setting aside the thick textbook and graph paper, I dug my small sketchbook from my backpack and procured my favorite green pen. I ripped a sheet of paper from the book and set the pen to it. It was not hard to start, even when not knowing exactly what I wanted to say. Just tell him what I liked to hear.
‘Dear Man With the Hard Hat’
My pen flew. My eyes flicked up, checking on the train’s progress. It was coming. The man with the hard hat seemed to heave a sigh. I signed off, folded the paper, and addressed the front.
‘If You Found This, It’s For You’
The train hissed to a stop and the doors slid open. Passengers hopped on and off. The man made for the door. I seized my stuff and sprinted in front of him, jostling him gently with my shoulder. With a slight of hand that surprised even myself, I dropped the note into the dangling hat.
The front car was always my destination. I dove for a bench, hurriedly dropping my books into my backpack, Zipping it up with a violent jerk, I finally relaxed. Physics mattered again, but I wanted to think first. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. The sprint had been too short lived to merit that. My brain, though, was moving way faster.
It may have made no difference in his life, but it made me feel good for some reason..
The man in the hard hat came into the car, still looking down at the paper in his trembling hand. A tear dropped from his age narrowed eyes to the page. He glanced up at the passengers in the car, standing and clinging to the ceiling bars or sitting squished between strangers with lives parallel to their own that they would possibly never know. The slightest smile curled his thin lips and a drop of saltwater creeped into the crease of his mouth.
I fought a smile, turning my head to look out the window as casually as possible. Words, utilized at the right time, had a strange power. The right words, however simple, could change everything, even from an anonymous source like me.
‘Dear Man With the Hard Hat,
You are important. The world sees you, even if you can’t feel the eyes. Someone is watching out for you. Sometimes, things don’t look good, but things can only look up from there, right? You are irreplaceable and loved more than you know.
Have the most fantastic day, Mr. Hard Hat Man. A smile helps enormously.
Love One Who Can See You.’
I smiled out the window.
Making someone else’s day better brightened mine, and I was not ready to stop there.