She stood there next to the doorway on the tube, a stylish Gucci bag slung casually over her shoulder, her formal suit & briefcase indicating that she was employed in a high profile corporate job. “Must be an investment banker”, I mused; as she self-assuredly communicated succinct instructions to some underling on her sleek mobile phone. I watched her, fascinated, impressed by her confidence and poise.
As she spoke, she momentarily removed the cooling glasses obscuring her eyes. I was startled to see a visible ugly gash near her eye marring the otherwise flawless face. A purple wound- still capturing the violence with which she was struck-it was obvious that she had been brutally hit (“by an abusive boyfriend or husband?” I thought to myself). “How can a girl, so obviously accomplished and confident, allow herself to be subject to such callous brutality”, I thought. Her eyes wandered briefly in my direction, and she realized that I had noticed it.
Her face colored, as she felt exposed; her humiliation revealed to a total stranger, privy to her worst demons by nothing more than a passing glance. Her expression was a confused mixture of annoyance & defiance; annoyance at my inadvertent violation- as if by just realizing her predicament, I had transgressed some unspoken boundary between strangers; a facade of defiance- by pursing her lips; the show of emotional strength belied by the pain in her eyes.
She melted, as she realized from my expression by own embarrassment. My silent empathy was wordlessly acknowledged by her, a shared experience of an intensely personal nature, amidst the chaos of a noisy train.
I was confused as to how to react. My hand half-outstretched, unsure whether to offer comfort; and confused if that presumptuous act would break the tenuous bond that we had built. Would I embarrass her by indiscreetly acknowledging the intimacy of our brief encounter? My confusion led inexorably to inaction, as I got down at the next station- the deep & ineffable interaction likely to leave a lasting impression despite its ephemeral nature.
The creaking doors shut slowly, our gazes locked with each other, as she evanesced along with the train, her eyes still mirroring her pain & gratitude.
I never saw her again after that day.