I was blasting Fleet Foxes in my headphones on the 6 train tonight when the man seated beside me leaned over and inspected something: me.
Immediately, self-consciouness washed over me. Last week, I took a mighty fall and now there's a murky bruise on my thigh, brooding fiercely under the skin. It's the size of my hand and pretty scary-looking. Over the last few days, I've had a couple horrified people demand, "What happened to your leg?!" My hand raced to the bruise in an effort to shield it from sight when I realized the man hadn't noticed my bruise. He was looking at my feet.
He caught my eye and mouthed something. He mouthed it again. I took my headphones off. "Nice Birkenstocks," he said.
"Oh," I looked at my feet. They were dirty and calloused with hairy toes. Embarrassing. "Thank you."
"I have a pair myself," he went on. I detected a French accent. "They're like..." He held up his hand and made a crossing motion with his fingers. I knew exactly the kind he was talking about.
"Oh, right! Yeah, those look too manly on me," I replied. He had gorgeous gray eyes. His hair was dark brown, with specks of white around the ears. He wasn't clean-shaven, but his pink-and-white striped shirt was neatly pressed and tucked into a pair of gray jeans. On his feet, he wore black socks with brown loafers. I loved his style; he wore the kind of clothing I think I'd wear, if I were a man.
He spoke easily, and we continued to talk about shoes. I told him I'd recently gotten these Birkenstocks repaired. Oh, he asked, did you send them in? You can do that, you know. No, I didn't. I took them to a cobbler in Manhattan. Oh, he replied. They look very nice. These loafers are from a thrift store. You should wear socks always, I said. I do, he replied. It feels a little like someone else has worn them. That makes sense, I replied. Because you got them at a thrift store.
I wondered if he was visiting the United States, or if he lived here. I wondered what would happen if he asked me for my number. Would I give it to him? Should I give him my email address instead? I've never given my phone number to a stranger before. I was rapidly thinking of options when my Frenchman turned to his right and began conversing in French with his travel partner. I didn't even know he was with someone. He seemed so engrossed in me.
He and his friend continued to chat in French as the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I thought, Well, he's not going to ask me for my number now. He looked up at me and smiled. "Have a nice evening," I said to him, and out the doors I went.
The Chinatown bus chugs along the expressway in the middle of the night. "I feel like I never meet anyone."
"Well, that's why so many of our friends are on OK Cupid," says Alex. He and I are slumped in our seats, eyes half-closed. I hope there aren't bedbugs on this bus.
I wrinkle my nose at the thought of finding love via questionnaires and games, searching for a man like I'm searching on Google. "I don't know. Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I like happenstance. Meeting someone on the street. Or wherever. Out of the blue."
"Yeah," he said. "Me too." And our single selves sat in silence, imagining lucky encounters.