The Central Square subway platform is narrow. My back hugs the tiled wall; commuters crowd in front of me. When the loudspeaker announces the Ashmont train approaching, I do a little stutter step through the tangle of bodies, reaching the car door before them. I am in search of precious commodity: a seat.
I land in the third side seat. The woman on my left is a senior; the person next to her has a leg cast on. On my right, a young man holds his knapsack between his legs which causes them to be splayed a bit too much in both directions; he seems oblivious.
I’m pleased; I have the last seat. Everyone entering must stand up, hold the silver poles or grasp the dangling rubber loops. We stop at Kendall for more passengers. It has been a damp, humid day. Some people are holding umbrellas, folded but wet. Others have thrown their hoods back from their heads sprinkling water droplets upon everyone nearby.
The woman on my left is staring at me. She reminds me of a real-life Mother Goose. Her long white hair is partially tucked up under her floppy hat, the rest flows over a bony shoulder. Her feet in old-fashioned brown leather boots hang over the edge of the seat, not touching the floor. Her curly-lamb coat does not appear damp. I get the feeling she’s been riding the train all day.
A tapestry purse sits on the woman’s lap. She bends her head down a bit, looks up at me out of the corner of her eye and smiles.
“I want to show you something.” Only the people immediately surrounding us can hear her. The train is moving fast as it starts across the Charles River bridge. I can’t see outside as the view is blocked, but I know we are out of the first tunnel as the light is different.
She opens a change purse from her bag and holds up a gold coin between two arthritic fingers. “Feel it.”
I take it into my hand because I don’t want to offend her. The coin is tarnished, but clearly real gold. The date is 1933. Wasn’t that the last year for the minting of US gold? I drop it back into her open coin purse. “A very nice treasure.”
“I want you to have it,” she says, removing the coin again and holding it up beside my head. “Look! It matches your hair! It’s gold! It belongs with you.”
The train has entered the second tunnel. The popular stops come up: Park, Downtown, South Station. Much shuffling in and out. A few seats free up but not many. It is easier to breathe, but only slightly.
With the train less crowded, more people are watching us; some of them are grinning. The woman is waving the coin back and forth. “Not only does it match your hair, it matches you.” I am becoming embarrassed by the attention we are attracting. I am afraid someone will think I am trying to steal the woman’s coin. More than that, I fear it is very valuable and that someone will see it and steal it from her.
The overhead speaker blares with the name of the next stop. “I think you should keep it. That way you will remember me,” she says, tilting her head and giving me a smile.
The train is approaching JFK. My stop. “Look,” I reach for the coin and hold it close to her eyes. “This coin of yours has special powers. It will bring you luck, but you cannot give it away. Do you understand? It will only bring you luck if you keep it with you always.”
“But it could bring you luck,” She tries to push the coin into my hand. I slip it back into her purse.The train stops. I get up. “No. Remember, the coin only brings luck to you. Keep it safe.” I move onto the platform and, as I do, I look back at Mother Goose as she sits in her seat, her face wrinkled in disappointment.
Just before the train doors close, I wave to her. She blows me a kiss.
Kyle Ingrid Johnson won First Prize in Madville Publishing’s well-received, Kirkus-starred anthology “Taboos & Transgressions.” Her work can be seen in 13th Moon, Water ~ Stone, Welter, and OPEN. She won Honorable Mention in the Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction Contest published in Cutthroat. Kyle Ingrid has pieces in Madville’s anthology “Being Home,” in the Quillkeepers Press LGBTQ anthology “The Heart of Pride,” and in the Harvard Bookstore’s travel anthology “Around the World.” She lives in Boston, MA.