At the front of the car stood a man in his late 60's in a red shirt because the Cardinals were back and he held the hand of a golden-haired two-year-old, her whole body straining toward that first pair of seats where one man sat unseeing. Her (grandfather?) may have refused the offer of a seat had anyone done so -- but nobody did.
Meanwhile, the star of our show was rolling herb in a brown paper. No conductors ride that train, the stations have no turnstiles to jump; admission is strictly free will donation. Somewhere around the University of Missouri a well-dressed woman with blond hair boarded with two large suitcases and he began "hitting" on her and razzing here about blocking herself in with the suitcases. That's a real fortress you got there. You shouldn't shut yourself off from people. You come back again, I'll be here waiting for you.
People around him looked tense and uncomfortable. A young woman of color left at the next stop with a look of relief. He moved to her seat and turned his attention toward me. Asked me for something to eat. I offered an apple and he accepted. Then he asked me for money. I refused. Munching on the apple, he returned to harassing the woman with the suitcases. Getting nowhere, he shouted past me to a friend sitting a few seats back.
I was watching the young child, who kept wanting to sit, but her grandfather held her arm firmly. She seemed tired. I wondered why they were still travelling west, having passed the stadium, when the young man in front of me asked if I swallowed an apple seed would it grow inside me.
I said, are you talking to me? He said yes. I said I was concerned for the little one up front. He said you should be concerned for all the children, especially the fatherless ones. What makes you think I'm not, I asked, curious about his judgment, his assumptions. Because you only said that little one, he said, moving his head toward the little girl. You should be concerned for all the fatherless children. Again I said, what makes you think I'm not?
As we spoke the man and the little girl got off the train, joining a group of red-shirted people on the platform.
A few minutes later my interrogator disembarked. I wished I'd asked him to plant an apple seed, and many more good things, in East St. Louis.
The woman with the suitcases had been visiting her daughter, she said. She was a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines and didn't usually fly to St. Louis. Did I know where their gate was, she asked. Sorry, I don't, I said. I'm not a frequent flyer.