*Press play to hear Hailey Colborn recite her poem*

Taking the metro alone for the first
time, I entered at 59th street
shortly after four o’clock,
and hopped on “the one”.

My shoes clicked as I walked into the car,
desperately trying to appear as if I knew what I was doing.
I cast my eyes towards the floor
to avoid meeting those of a few middle-aged men.

A lady assessed me before silently scooting down to
create space. I sat, spending the next eight
stops obsessively glancing between the curled pages
of my cherished paperback Lolitaand the map on my phone.

I got off at 116thstreet and spent hours
Among eclectic friends
One of them – an attractive guy – called this city
“the city where you fall in love four times a day”.

I got back on the train at 116thstreet
around eight o’clock and
On the metro back to my apartment,
I promptly fell in love twice:

With the man four seats to my right,
Virtually checking his bank account.
With ample (but clean) scruff and a
“Columbia Business School” backpack.

With the almost middle-aged gentleman across from me
– our eyes meeting briefly – wearing
red snake-patterned socks under worn
brown dress shoes with designs on the toes.

The first watched himself in the
window and got off on 79thstreet.
The second looked at me then smiled down
at his phone, the screen lighting up two phenomenally
deep dimples. He proceeded to pull out a book as I
craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the title.
Taking out his bookmark, he placed it about
a fourth of the book from the back, exactly how I do
when I manage to refrain from dog earring my pages.
I grew fond of this man across from me;
his pointed, freckled nose, those damn dimples,
his book with its tiny print.

He got off on 59th.
As did I.
I thought about following him
for a bit, but four things deterred me:

1) That he moved at a particularly fast pace
2) That it is not socially acceptable to follow people
3) That I am a 5’4″, 18-year-old girl alone in the city
4) That the exit he just passed is the only one from which I know the way home

So I silently bade my love goodbye and ascended back
into the world of ignored crosswalks and stern faces.
As my shoes clicked up the stairs, another man gazed at me
with that oh-so-familiar doey-eyed expression. And it hit me:

We fall in love with the
strangers we pass
because they are whoever
we want them to be.

For example, my two loves on the metro:
Mr. Columbia Business School was smart, sophisticated, sensible.
That is until his eyes met his own for far too
long in the window and he became conceited in mine.

But the second man –  hopping up after the monotone announcement
Of “59th  Street, Columbus Circle”, his path mingling with mine.
The stars painted on the underground walls aligned for us to be in the same place at the same time.
He was gentle, intelligent, thoughtful.
Then he was gone.

And to the men that watch me fleetingly, who knows?
Maybe I am pursed lips and a waist and wide eyes.
Maybe I am smart.
Maybe I am not.

Maybe I am one of their four.
Maybe they are one of mine.

Illustration by Nora Wildberg

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