Blown Away

Vlad as a child

By Johna Till Johnson

It’s 11:30 on a sweltering summer weekday. I’m on my way to a client meeting downtown. I step into the subway car, grateful there’s a seat and working air conditioning. The people in the car are the usual mix of ages, races, genders. We avoid eye contact.

At the next stop, a heavyset young man gets in, with a little boy, about three, in a stroller. The man settles into a seat across from me, and I glance at the little boy.

He’s adorable. There’s something hauntingly familiar about his expression: placid yet worried, with his brows drawn up in a look of concern. I smile at him and try to get his attention. Out of shyness or embarrassment he looks away, towards his father. Or maybe he’s put off by my unnatural hair color and the giant, bug-eyed sunglasses covering half my face.

“Can you wave hello?” the father asks, but the boy won’t turn towards me. “It’s ok,” I say, smiling, to the father. “He doesn’t have to wave at the strange lady.”

Then I suddenly realize, with a pang, why the child’s expression is so familiar.

I turn to the woman next to me, a kind-looking middle-aged Hispanic woman. She’s also smiling at the little boy.

“My husband has a photo of himself at about that age, with that same expression,” I say to her. “So sweet!” I notice I’m speaking of Vlad in the present tense, but don’t bother to correct myself.

“So sweet,” the lady agrees, and tries to get the boy to look at her, but he won’t.

The familiar wave of grief washes over me. I feel my eyes watering, and I’m grateful for the sunglasses hiding my face. To distract myself, I look at the people across from me. There’s a couple, sitting close together. Both are looking down at their phones, oblivious. The only way I know they’re a couple is how close they’re sitting. A couple. Another pang.

A few moments later, my stop is approaching. In preparation, I get up and head towards the door. As I do, I hear the people around me start to stir and murmur, but I’m not paying attention. Then the man who was across from me says, “Ma’am, look!”

I turn, and the boy is reaching out for me, his hand a starfish, his body straining against the stroller straps. He says nothing, but the beseeching look on his face is clear, and clearly directed at me.

“He doesn’t want you to leave!” the woman gasps in surprise. We all exchange looks of wonder.

The subway doors open. I step off the train, glad once again for the oversized sunglasses.

18 responses to “Blown Away

  1. Oh dear…the small things that can undo us….

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So moving, Johna. Sending you a hug.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. AlanTimothy C. Lunceford-Stevens

    Johna, A big hug for you and your prose. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, Johna. The photo is adorable, but this subway ride was amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So beautiful and haunting. I read it several times.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Okay, that made me tear-up. He was sending you a hug when he reached out.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh my. That’s beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Writing therapy, that’s what you’re doing. And it’s really great writing because you’re honest, and you genuinely connect with people, even on a hot summer day on the subway. That kind of encounter is familiar to me, too. Public spaces can be so hard sometimes, and the most moving encounters can happen with strangers. New York’s a perfect place for it. Take care of yourself. I know you are doing that.

    Like

  9. Pingback: Blown Away — Wind Against Current – The Humanity Eye

  10. I have been following this blog, and reading it from time to time. I went back on your last posts to understand. I am very sorry for your loss , and thank you for continuying it and let us know. It is a strange community, a virtual one, we never met, but I felt connected to Vlad and now you.
    You write so well. I will continue to read you with pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

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