The old man and I sit on opposite sides of the subway car, staring at each other in a kind of mutual awe and puzzlement. I try to take in his features, but beyond the fact that he is balding and gray-haired, and that he is wearing a pair of glasses with thick brown rims, his appearance doesn’t stick in my mind at all. I begin to question whether he even has any recognizable form any more, outside of these memorable portions of his appearance.
We speed through the tunnels deep underground, shadows jumping back and forth in the darkened car as we pass by an endless array of lamps that seem to shift hues gradually, giving the interior a sort of slowly pulsating color. For a long while, the only sound is the relentless click-clack of the train’s wheels along the track. Finally, he speaks.
“How have you been?” His lips curve into a thin smile.
I don’t respond. I have nothing to say to him, after all.
“I understand. I know I’m one of the last people you’d want to see right now. Especially alone. To be honest, I was never sure how to handle you, either.”
I interrupt him. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” he says. “I was about to ask you the same question.”
“Are you kidding? Then why am I here? You’re asking me how I’ve been, but you don’t even need to ask, do you? You must know how I’ve been, if you’ve dragged me here.”
“But I don’t.” The smile fades from the old man’s face. “I have as little reason to bring you here as you might to come here on your own.”
I can’t stand that calm demeanor of his, or the way he answers questions only with more questions of his own. I want to get up and leave, but there is nowhere to go — only further down the tunnel, only further underground, only further into the darkness. I merely glare at the old man instead, in the sole feeble expression of that desire that I can muster.
He looks down at the ground. “I’m sure something will come to you.”
A horn sounds from the tunnel outside, and another train comes roaring past us in the opposite direction. I briefly catch a glimpse of the old man’s face in the light of its headlamps. The innumerable small wrinkles running across his skin resemble the fine cracks in old ceramic.
“You know,” he picks up, softly, “before we had you, I was always worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand you. That in spite of being born from my own flesh and blood, you would be somehow alien to me. Your mother liked to tease me for that after you got older. I was so scared of your being different that you ended up just like me, she’d say.”
“I know that already,” I say. “He told me that himself. I don’t know why you have to keep pretending. We both know you’re not him.”
“It’s only been a few years,” the old man responds.
“A few years should have been more than long enough for you to disappear, or at least become something different. I never thought you would still be here, still looking like that, after all this time.”
“But who else do you have to turn to, if not me?”
I look away, out of the windows at the unceasing parade of tunnel lights. In a quiet voice, I say, “Don’t you think that’s exactly the problem?”
The old man, for once, has nothing to say.