Excuse Me, You Seem to Have Fallen Asleep on My Shoulder by Peter McMillan

March 31, 2014 Comments Off on Excuse Me, You Seem to Have Fallen Asleep on My Shoulder by Peter McMillan

What’s this little black gangsta think he’s doing? Does he know he’s fallen asleep on the shoulder of an old Jew, someone he may have been taught to mistrust, possibly hate? And all these other people … why are they ignoring this?

Friday night, rush hour on the subway like any other weeknight … but not. There’s a head, tucked deep inside a dark gray hoodie, leaning on me, no, more like pinning me in my seat. It’s not particularly threatening, not in any violent sort of way. I mean, he’s just a boy. I guess he could have — wouldn’t be surprised if he had a knife … or even a gun. But for now, while he’s sound asleep, it’s a rudeness, an intrusion … a violation of my space on this overcrowded subway car.

A tall muscular man, with menacing tattoos up and down both arms, pushes his way through the standing patrons, looks our way, and says “Ain’t that thweet? Ith like a Norman Rockwell,” just before he steps off the train.

Across the way, between the suits hidden in their papers, through the ebb and flow of one-sided conversations, and past the bobbing, swaying heads immersed in silence, Grandma stares vacantly in our direction, yet there is a faint smile out of the left corner of her mouth. The right side doesn’t move. Fixed there, as if by a stroke.

In the background off to my right, a young woman is excitedly going over her guest list with her girlfriends. Over to my left, a little girl is whispering loudly the questions that I myself have been asking. Her mother shushes her and tries to distract her with one of the presents she’d just bought — a book about ballet, Peter and the Wolf, I think I hear her say.

For twenty minutes we ride like this. My friend fast asleep on my arm. Not snoring, not drooling — thank God — just quietly sleeping.

By now, mostly people are leaving the train at the various stations, but occasionally we pick up riders headed further down the line. One, a scruffy-looking thirty-something, who has an air that doesn’t suit his scruffiness, ends up standing directly in front of us though there are plenty of empty seats nearby. After a minute or two — maybe the time he needed to consider the awkwardness of my situation — he asks whether I’d like him to wake the youngster.

To my surprise, I say “No, I don’t think so. He seems to be exhausted. But I’m getting off in three stops. Perhaps then you could take my place.”

© 2013 Peter McMillan

Peter McMillan is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. He has published two anthologies of his reprinted stories: Flash! Fiction and Flash! Fiction 2.

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