I stood in front of the red double doors of a Toronto subway carriage, holding on to the silver stanchion and staring at the reflection of myself in the window pane. It wasn’t the same reflection I saw seven months ago, before I had moved to the Caribbean. My skin was tanned and my hair had lightened; I had lost weight. Nevertheless, I recognized the sound of the screeching train tracks as the subway train slowed, emerging from the tunnel to reveal the familiar green and white tile walls of Bay Street station. The doors slid open and I stepped onto the platform, looking around in order to find my bearings. That familiar chime, warning of the closing doors, rang in my ears.
Going up the escalator I watched scarves and skinny jeans, rompers and coke-bottle glasses, suits and ties rushing down the adjacent stairs. Bay Station always has an eclectic mix of characters: a man in a well-tailored suit and blue tie, walking briskly down the stairs with a leather satchel slung over one shoulder; a young woman with blunt bangs holding a large shopping bag from luxury store and a small pink one from Holt Renfrew, whose kitten heels’ clacking echo with every step she takes; a twenty-something wearing a jeans vest over a red flannel lumberjack shirt, whose music can be heard so clearly from his headphones every passenger could join in on the party…
I drifted farther and further away from them and the groups of people they joined waiting for the next train on the platform. It all seemed so out of reach, like I was watching some sort of performance art installation at a museum instead of being a part of it.
As I looked ahead, a rush of people coming off the bus outside flocked into the station. The crowd engulfed me, a wave of jackets, ponytails, purses, and graphic tees. They swiped their cards or flashed transfers at the collector’s booth. Rather than try to push against the crowd, I stood aside, waiting for them to disperse. Another train squealed into the station and some picked up their pace, leaning over on the stairs to see if it was their train or not.
I felt overwhelmed – I hadn’t seen this many people all at once in months – and surprised by how quickly the current came and went. I walked through the turnstile and turned my head to look inside the booth. The collector was sitting inside wearing a blue short-sleeve shirt with a burgundy, knitted vest emblazoned with the TTC patch over the left breast. His elbow was on the counter and he rested his chin on his hand, looking out aimlessly into the station. I smiled and opened my mouth to say ‘Bonjour!’ as I had done yesterday and for seven months before that. I closed it and smiled again. He raised his eyebrows slightly and turned his head.
Torontonians rarely interact on public transport out of choice – it is usually only out of necessity. Even through this ostensible indifference to each other, we still feel a sense of community: we are joined in solidarity to the unwritten rule of dissociation on the TTC. But today, it didn’t feel comfortable, not one bit.
I lowered my head and avoided eye contact until I got to the staircase leading out onto Bay Street. I placed my right foot on the first step and paused to lift my head and look up onto the busy sidewalk. I inhaled deeply and lifted my left.