On my way home from Ridgewood one night, I walked towards the elevator on the second floor of Secaucus Junction. Hordes of business-people, secretaries, salespeople, and chaps back from nights out in the city had formed a long line towards the elevator, and I decided to give up and wait for the next round, leaning against a pillar and continuing to read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Suddenly, I heard a young but hoarse voice call out to me, asking, “Are you reading that for school, honey?”
Turning around, I saw a petite and fractionally-Asian looking woman walking towards me in a strappy black tank top, shorts, and flip-flops. A large pair of sunglasses veiled her eyes and most of her face, and she had a touch of pink lipstick on. The cigarette balanced between her fingers explained the husky voice.
“No, I’m just reading it for myself,” I explained, turning the book around in my hands while I found a slight rush of excitement at being part of this conversation.
“What are you, an English major?”
The elevator arrived and we stepped in. The crowd straining to descend out of the station had vanished. I told her I probably wouldn’t be an English major–in fact, I had just graduated high school. She beamed.
“Good for you, honey! Good for you, sweetheart, you must be a smart girl. I’m a quarter-Asian–” she flipped up her sunglasses to verify, “–but I was never that big into reading.”
“Oh, really?,” I asked. She was quite pretty, with kohl around her eyes and the sunglasses now pushing her hair out of her face.
“I always did really well in English but I can’t stand reading. Could never stand it.” She went on to describe other parts of her life as a student–“kids would always come sit right next to me in math class because I’m quarter Asian, but cheating off me would just make them do worse,” she chuckled to herself.
Our conversation lasted only a few extra seconds, but the overwhelming encouragement coming from the husky voice of a young stranger dangling a cigarette surprised me. She grinned at me, and after one final, “Good for you, girl,” she was gone, walking towards the row of taxis with her petite hips swinging slightly as she disappeared from sight.