On the train this morning I stood next to a man reading the same book I was reading and on the same page. The book was published over a decade ago and over 700 pages in total so I thought that was some coincidence. I read looking over at his book for a while. It was difficult because I had on my reading glasses, but I could tell it was the same page. The doors closed after our last stop and he was still there.
I began, slowly, nearly mumbling, to read aloud from the next page — just ahead of him. I gradually raised my voice to something like conversation level, such as it is on a New York City Subway train.
As I read I looked over at him to gauge any reaction. I wanted to see if — I having read the next page for him — he felt familiar with the text, you know, like deja vu.
He didn’t seem to notice.
I read on, but at the next page, I waited. Someone in front of me looked relieved that I had stopped. I suppose that sort of thing could be annoying, but people do talk on the train.
As he turned the page, I began again. This time firmly in a conversational voice. By the end of the page I slightly emerged from my monotonic voice to reading ever so slightly as though I were the characters in the book; reading the dialogue as them.
I came to the end of the next page and expected to have to wait, but he was right with me and turned the page. He was reading along! I read silently when the train doors stopped at the next stop. We were not yet at Delancy street where the doors we were both leaning on would open. The doors closed. The train was getting more crowded, but we both remained next to one another with our books chest high before us. His bookmark was tucked into a later page, his bag, a small black shoulder bag like you’ll find any commuter in New York carrying.
As we both flipped the page, I began reading again, no louder than before, but now he joined in with me, like we were a duo on stage. By the time we came mid-page, I could hear another voice and the same words. And another and yet another. While some read in monotone, another would read in voice, but all in perfect synchronization. The train was too crowded now to see who it might be and it certainly wasn’t anyone around me. We all read…
“Looking up at the dawn stars from the bottom of a well was a special experience very different from looking at the full, starry sky on a mountaintop, as if my mind — my self — my very existence — were firmly bonded through my narrow window to each one of those stars in the sky. I felt a deep sense of intimacy toward them: they were my stars, visible to no one but me, down here in the dark well. I embraced them as my own, and they in turn showered me with a kind of energy and warmth.”
The book’s intensity made our public display embarrassing. I could see a few people looking around, one set of eyes raised, but mostly everyone was going on with their day, trying to read their papers. I couldn’t look away but for a moment because I had to keep reading to keep up the harmony in that car at that moment.
My discomfort with the situation, the situation I had started, was betrayed when we got to “May Kasahara” speaking and I couldn’t raise my voice to the pitch that I thought this teenage girl should have. Someone in the car nailed it though and you would swear you were at the bottom of the well with May tauntingly threatening to leave you there to die, precisely because no one would realize you were gone.
At the next stop we all stopped. Not many people got off, the makeup of the passengers didn’t change much. It took a moment for everyone to begin again and I realized they were waiting for me as I looked at the new passengers. They somehow seemed to be intruding to me, not that I cared, but I didn’t like having new people on the train. By now I had forgotten about the man next to me, although he was still reading, last I could recall. I slowly looked down at the page as though having finished a salient thought in a speech and wanted the words to resonate before I began again. I tried reading faster to see if I really could make everyone go with me, but it seemed as though once I started everyone was together and I but a bit player.
There was something shrill and distant about the next passage because no one read it but the woman who had gotten May Kasahara so right before:
“’Hi there, Mr. Wind-Up Bird’”
[everyone chimed in to say “said May Kasahara”]
“‘Are you still alive?’ Mr Wind-up Bird? Answer if you’re still alive.”’
As those words echoed throughout the car, for by now no one else spoke, the doors next to me opened. It was Delancy street, the only place the doors open on my commute on that side until I get to my stop. The man next to me backed off the train, turned and slid his book into his shoulder bag in one motion as others began to flood the train. I was in the way because I did nothing but watch him. Someone sneered at me as I realized I needed to move, so I grabbed my backpack from between my feet and moved into the center of the car. It was difficult to even open my book because someone was at my back and each of my elbows and I hovered over a very large woman with a shopping bag at her feet and a man next to her leaning forward for room against her brawny shoulders. I managed to coax my finger into the page where I left it and began to read, silently.