I don't know what he was trying to say to me, but I know feeling vulnerable on the train, feeling like you know someone when you don't. I know sitting helplessly as eyes brim with tears, being unable to control your face.
I was on the N for an afternoon of exploring a neighborhood that is not my own. I watched out the window as rows of homes flipped by like a shuffled deck of cards. I wore headphones that filled my ears with sounds I selected.
He was young, a little scraggly looking. He seemed nervous, and I caught him eyeing my phone. I stuck it under my purse. That's when he motioned to me that he wanted to talk. I pulled my headphones down.
"I'm sorry," he said. I didn't know what he was sorry for, but he seemed genuinely regretful.
"I'm sorry?," I said it back to him as a question.
"This is embarrassing," he told me, and with the side of his flattened palm he wiped his eyes.
I didn't know why he was embarrassed. I didn't know why he was crying.
"Are you okay?," I asked him.
"Yeah, I'm sorry. Ugh. I'm sorry; I'm embarrassed." He dabbed at wet eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.
"You sure you're okay?"
And so I put my headphones back on, even though the exchange chilled me. I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know what he wanted. I didn't know what caused his tears. But I know succumbing to them in public on a train beside a stranger. I know what that is like. And I know what it feels like to try to communicate something you can't. And to feel ashamed.
Was he seeking solace? Did he have a story to tell? A request to ask?
The young man watched as I deboarded at the next stop. His face looked ripe with things to say.