The Loneliness of Crowded Subways

her hand shook with the intensity and concentration that was required of the sunday crossword. periodically, she would look up from the dismal gray of the weathered pages, mangled from when she had boarded the train earlier, amidst the morning rush. it seemed that every time she looked, she briefly caught the glance of the young man seated next to her. it was for this reason that she rarely broke her intent focus on clue 9 across. whenever she did she was greeted by a timid smile that graced the young man’s angular face. His face seemed to be framed by his square jaw line and the sparse facial hairs that decorated his face that told the woman he could be no more than his early 20s. she was also good at reading people, a skill that had never come in handy during her younger days or even now. the skill of reading people is so often wasted on the misanthropic and those who can barely stand the others that surround them. it was for this reason that she never smiled back. besides, in all truth, her main focus had not been on the gentleman sitting beside her at all. it was as if she saw through him, past his toothy grin that shrank back when met with her withering glare. all she was able to see was the window behind him and the reflection that showed no mercy in returning the accusatory fixation. in the cold glass she saw a hardened woman with gray hair that had become brittle and unmanageable as she had tired from the daily maintenance required of it. her gaze was returned by her own cold blue eyes, eyes that belonged to a woman who’d seen a great deal but now found herself too tired to care. she found herself in what she tried to play off as a state of indifference. but it was no use trying to lie to herself when everyone else aboard the northbound train could see the truth. she was bitter. she was tired. she was old. and worse yet, she was painfully alone. she was what everyone had always told her she would one day become. she had been warned, but all those times she had ignored their words of caution, tossing them aside where they lay among stale memories and faint whispers of past cautions. the agony of the undeniable truth was staring back at her from the glass. she wished that she could hide from the inescapable but she had spent her life wishing all to no avail and there was no use believing anymore. she had grown accustomed to waking up alone until the cutting pain of solitude had dullened to a soft roar that only emerged in bouts of aging desperation. it was desperation that enslaved her, but it was both desperation and fear that ruled her. nothing, not even spending your life alone, can prepare you for ending your life alone. even at her fragile age when she knew that death was imminent, this wasn’t how she had pictured it. she had no misconceptions about life and the way that it ends, but she didn’t deserve to spend her last days alone she told herself. she told herself this and yet she was powerless to change it. she was too old, too withered, too stuck in her ways to change now and no amount of wishing or lying or hoping was going to change that. no, it was too late for her. it was too late for change. she found herself wondering, even if she could change, did she honestly believe that she would? she had grown particularly adept at lying to herself but this was one that was impassible. she couldn’t even pretend that she’d be different. if people had granted her some reason, some offer of companionship besides the sickening smile of the passerby, perhaps then she wouldn’t have hardened into the emotionally comatose state she now lay in. the truth of the matter was that people had offered her this before.

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