It was 7:30am and I was one of many silently commuting into Toronto’s downtown. We’re a quiet bunch, Toronto commuters. During the morning commute, we’ve got coffee in one hand and either the paper, a book, or, predominantly it seems, a Smartphone in the other.
We’re together, often almost touching, but quiet and alone.
Like I said, watching him walk over, I didn’t think he’d take the seat beside me. There were already two of us on the small three-seater bench. On one side was an older man, reading, and I was in the middle with a coffee in hand and my bag stowed away beneath my feet.
This guy was big—probably at least 6’2 or 6’3 with broad shoulders and a bulky frame.
“Is it okay if I sit here? I’m going all the way to Broadview and I’m going to be tired if I don’t sit down,” he said loudly.
“Of course I don’t mind,” I told him, though he was already squeezing himself into the seat beside me before I’d even finished speaking.
His explanation continued and, because we were sitting side by side, bodies touching, our faces were now no more than a few inches apart when we looked at each other. “I’m going all the way to Broadview station for work. I work at Loblaws and also for a catering company,” he told me, still in an overly loud voice.
Then, even though I felt no intuitive reluctance to interact with this guy, I was thinking through whether or not I should be careful and cautious in being too friendly—the normal mental process women have with unknown men. I could tell immediately there was an obvious sweetness and innocence to this man, and I could also discern right away that he was lacking in what most of us would consider standard social boundaries.
Nonetheless, I was still momentarily deliberating the wisdom of ongoing conversation when he lifted his arm, shoved up his coat sleeve and said proudly, “Look, I got a new watch. It always has the right time. It’s so handy. If I need to know what time it is, I just look at my wrist and I know. 7:39, that’s what time it is.” Pulling his phone out of his bag and showing me the phone’s face, he continued. “My phone is always ahead. And I don’t know how to change it so that it stays at the right time. So now I have a watch.”
By this point, I was enjoying this sweet, friendly man beside me.
“Well, I’m sure there’s someone who could fix the watch on your phone for you. It can’t be that hard to fix. But I’m not that person. I’m no good when it comes to troubleshooting.”
He clarified his intent. “I wasn’t asking you to fix it. I was just telling you about it. It’s always fast. And now I have a watch on my wrist that’s always the right time. I’m on my way to Loblaws, and it’s all the way at Broadview station, so I have to sit down or I’ll get too tired.”
“How come if you live on the west end you work so far east?” I asked him.
“It’s just where I work,” he answered. And then, without a transition, he continued. “This summer I’m going to Newfoundland with my parents. I’m flying by myself. It’s going to be my first time flying by myself. I’m excited, but I’m scared too.”
“Well, I thought you said you’re going with your parents? Where will they be? Why aren’t you flying with them?” I asked him.
“They’re going to Nova Scotia first, and then I’m flying to Nova Scotia to meet them, then we’re driving the rest of the way together.”
Graham, as I later learned was his name, and I talked the rest of ride. I told him about my recent trip to Newfoundland last summer, and my family who lives there. He shared his excitement about going on the overnight ferry. We talked about his siblings and how, even though he’s 31 years old, he’s still the baby of his family. I told him about my family, my husband, and my children. Still in his loud voice, he told me about his first nephew who is 13 months old.
When the subway arrived at St. George Station and I needed to transfer trains, I stood up, shook his hand, and told him how much I’d enjoyed talking with him. As I was getting off the train, I glanced back at him and he’d already moved on and was starting a conversation with someone else.
The doors opened and, moving along with the silent throng, I felt my eyes fill with tears as I realized that in a month of commuting downtown each day, it was the first time I’d enjoyed a real conversation with a stranger beside me.
Every morning when I transfer from the Bloor Line and walk up the stairs to get on the University Line, I always listen to the echoing sound of all our footsteps. We’re mostly quiet, not saying a word, and in the hollow of the underground, there is only the stamping rhythm of our feet. It's a transfixing sound.
We’re all coming and going so quickly, eyes ahead, joined only by shared space and the sound of our footsteps.
That morning after climbing the stairs, as I stood beside so many others, quietly waiting for the next train, I was wiping away tears. I couldn’t figure out why I felt sad, or even if I felt sad. I just knew that Graham was a special person, was thankful God caused our lives to cross paths, and am so glad he squeezed into that small seat beside me.