She was surrounded by luggage.
I boarded the Light Rail train at Cultural Center, after running hard for half a block in sub-freezing cold, just to be sure that I would not have to wait fifteen minutes for the next Hunt Valley train. As I surmounted the stairs into the railcar I saw a woman on the handicapped seat right at the door, with luggage to both sides, at her feet, and on the seat beside her. All told, eight pieces — large duffles, small duffles, backpacks, tote bags.
The car was curiously crowded this morning, and I found a seat midway back.
I glanced at the woman as I settled in. I judged her to be about thirty. She had dirty blond hair, curly, a little more than shoulder length. She wore black; her top, beneath her brown jacket, had some kind of shimmering quality to it. The old writer’s trick of forming a story about the details presented by a stranger came to mind. Why all the luggage? She’s traveling, obviously. But from where to where? I noticed an airport baggage tag on one of the bags. Perhaps she’d been overseas for Christmas and was just returning home. No, I noticed books in one of the open totes. A grad student in history, then, just returned from a semester in Europe.
The train rolled through North Avenue and Woodberry. She had an awful lot of luggage. I could not stop thinking about the luggage.
Is there an adjective to describe a quantity of luggage? A flock of geese, a murder of crows. But luggage? A malarkey of luggage? I like that. I could not stop thinking of her malarkey of luggage.
She looked at me. Perhaps I’d been studying her luggage and she was curious why. Or perhaps she just was taking a look around the car. Either way, we made eye contact, and I pointed at her. “Are you going to need a hand offloading?” I asked.
She smiled. “You must have read my mind.”
I smiled back. “What’s your stop?”
“Mount Washington,” she said.
That was still a little ways up.
I moved a seat closer, and we talked for a few moments. A grad student she was not. She was from California. She was a missionary en route to Nigeria for a year. She was taking a library with her; one of her duffels was packed.
She asked what I did, and I told her, and thus began a brief conversation about writing.
We arrived at Mount Washington, and I picked up the duffels, nearly tripping my way out the door, as I wasn’t used to their weight and I was unbalanced in trying to get down the stairs. She brought a couple more bags out, and then I helped her move another heavy duffel. She was then to wait for a friend.
I wished her well on her missionary work, reboarded the train, and on my way to work I went.
It was a morning for observing strangers on the train and the subway. I saw a woman on the subway — silver hair, perhaps in her late-fifties — shuffling tarot cards. Tarot cards!
And then there was snowfall from a clear blue sky; I thought it a strange portent and an ill-omen, though in reality today turned out fine.
Such was my morning.