There are people who have used public transport all their lives and then there are those who drive to work come rain or hail. As someone who drove the length of Shahrah-e-Faisal for most of her professional life, the idea of sitting in a subway, reading a paper and getting to work without hurling curse words at fellow drivers was quite fascinating for me. So when I moved to Toronto, I decided that I wouldn’t buy a car and very happily got in the queue to buy my first monthly pass, blissfully unsuspecting of the jungle that is the underground.
I was expecting the usual suspects when I first started commuting through the subway: loud snorers, pesky cell phone talkers (only on the buses and not in the subway for obvious reasons), people with multiple kids who have no control over their own offspring, and loud gossipers. Well, I encountered them all and then some more.
There is a whole new category of commuters I opened up my eyes to once I started commuting regularly by the subway: the expert make-up appliers. These are women who whip out their lipsticks and apply them without mirrors. Sometimes you see some painting their nails while balancing their morning cups of coffee, others decide to moisturize major parts of their body in front of an audience. Once a woman asked me to hold a small mirror for her because she needed both her hands to apply mascara perfectly. While I was holding the mirror – because how can one refuse a sister some vanity – she told me how this seriously loaded single guy was coming in for a deposition at her office and how she wanted her lashes be in mint condition to ensnare him with her womanly wiles. I should point out that that the phrase ‘womanly wiles’ is not really a part of my vocabulary, it was the woman with the mascara who used that term. I was suitably impressed – both with her make-up skills and her repertoire of womanly wiles.
Some people catch up on their TV viewing on the commute back from work. You would spot people watching new episodes of Mad Men, True Detective, Agents of Shield or one of those many vampire/zombie shows on their tablets. It is like an unwritten rule of subway commuting, for the morning commute, you either read the newspaper or hold on to the caffeine of your choice like your life is depending on it. You gossip, watch TV, look bored, play cross word puzzle or just randomly stare at people during the evening commute. However, one day, I spotted a woman watching ‘How to lose a guy in 10 days’ on the way to work – in the morning! Watching Kate Hudson is generally painful but watching her before 8.00 am is masochism of next level.
The other day I was sitting in the subway when a woman complimented me on my earrings. I thanked her and checked which ones I was wearing. Turned out, I was wearing a pair of golf club earrings that my sister got me when I was in high school. She then asked me if I was a golfer. When I told her that I’ve never played golf, she was offended and said that I should not be allowed to wear something that beautiful if I was not an avid golfer. I did not know how to respond to that. She then asked me if I would sell her those earrings. By this time she had started scaring me a bit so I just took them off and told her she could take them for free (they are quite old anyways). Genuinely offended at that she told me she could not take off things off a person (though she had no qualms in harassing a perfect stranger for wearing a golf club in her ears despite not being a golfer). I then put my earrings in my pocket and told her that if it was any consolation, I have earrings with daggers but that does not mean I am an international assassin. That weirded her out enough to leave me alone. I bet she tells people during lulls in dinner parties that she met a brown international assassin in the subway once.
My trend of attracting old ladies of all kinds at airports and airplanes has followed me to the underground train world. I have met my fair share of old ladies who have asked me about ways to use phone apps, download songs on one’s phone and its effect on the data plan, complain about their grandkids who do not talk on phone like normal people but just text. I wanted to tell them that they should count their lucky stars that their grandkids still talk to them and do not insist on snapchat but held myself back because that would require a fresh round of explanations.
There are some other people who would love to tell others how open-minded they are, at times embarrassingly so. Apparently the best way to tell perfect strangers how you are not a narrow minded wasp (White Anglo Saxon Person) is to whip your phone out and show them highly inappropriate photographs of you canoodling with your boyfriend of colour. I mean why are Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian judged for doing it in front of the camera! I think half the world’s population would like the other half to know that they are getting some.
There are some of those nosey types who shamelessly read whatever you are reading on your phone. At times, you want to scream at them, “Take your own phone out asshole!”
Last week, a very cheerful guy sat next to me in the bus. He smiled and said hi, I responded with a smile and a hi. He then commented on the good weather and told me how glad he was that I was in Canada and not in my country. Now, I know Pakistan is not really a choice tourist destination but it stung a little, so I asked him why he was particularly glad that I was not in my country.
“Oh they raped and killed and then hung two girls in your country, right? At least you are safe here,” said he waving a copy of Metro (the free newspaper that is available at every subway station and bus terminal in Toronto) in my face. I agreed with him that it was indeed a tragic incident but not one that happens to all the women in India. I mean it’s a country of 1.2 billion people and more than half of them are women who are obviously not dead. I then told him I am not an Indian. “Oh so what country are you from?” he asked, and when I told him Pakistan (should’ve known better) he smiled even more and said, “Ah you are from the country where they killed the pregnant lady with bricks. That’s tragic too.” The man’s cheery tone as he rattled off this latest piece of tidbit to emerge from my country forced me to get off earlier than I had to, quickly trying to put as much distance as I could between me and his joyfully morbid fascination with tragic deaths in South Asia.
One day, I just happened to pick up Foucault for light summer reading and I swear I was not trying to be a pretentious shmuck. I always had to read him under duress and I believe that one ends up hating the best of writers if they become part of the syllabus, so I picked his ‘The Order of Things’ and was reading it in the bus when a really old man sat down next to me. He started off with no preamble.
“You look like someone who has been to a college, right?”
“Yes, far too many if you ask me,” I replied.
“Yeah, like you have some kind of masters degree?”
“I actually have two masters degrees,” I grimaced.
“So you must be one of those people who do nothing but make quarter of a million for going to college for many years,” he looked at me as if I am responsible for shrinking his retirement investment or something.
I have a lot of patience for older folks but if someone overestimates my finances, it does get my goat. I mean If I was making that kind of money, wouldn’t I be driving a BMW convertible and not listening to his crap!
I hate driving and I realize I hate public transport with the same gusto. I now want Harry Potter’s broom to take me places. A flying carpet would do as well.
First published in The Friday Times