She was watching him with a mixture of fear and desire. That’s why I noticed them. Sitting on the last seat in the empty subway carriage, there was nothing else about them that would have compelled the eye.
She was about 19, long haired, with an open and perfectly proportioned face. What tipped me off to the fact that something was wrong was that he wasn’t looking at her and thanking his lucky stars, the way most sensible boys of his age would.
No, instead he was a whirligig of jagged energy, unable to sit still, jumping up and wheeling around, even at one stage suggesting that they cross the platform to the other train, which might be express if this one was local.
They were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the wrong train was about to leave, all his actions told her. Also about 19, he wore the hood of his bright blue American Eagle sweatshirt pulled over his eyebrows, muttering out of it like a mad monk.
She watched him dart and weave. Her big round anxious eyes were full of concern when he looked away, and full of desire and tenderness when he looked directly at her.
I had seen this dance before many times with many other luckless couples. The world is full of agitated men who can’t live in peace with themselves or others. I probably wouldn’t have given them another thought if he hadn’t wheeled around sharply and looked right at me.
His face was blank, his eyes expressionless. Only the downward shape of his mouth conveyed a hint of the inner cruelty. He was looking at me with a stare of such unwarranted hostility that I instantly understood how sick he was.
My own attention wasn’t complicated by romance or family ties or schoolyard considerations. I could see what others could not or would not.
But what was that energy inside him that wouldn’t allow him to sit still? Was it the legacy of a broken home, or years of privation?
Was it spiritual or was it biological? Was it something that was going wrong in his head?
I’ve seen that look before in the North, where it always meant flight or fight. You usually had about five seconds to make the decision before it is made for you.
But even there, there was usually some reason. You were the wrong religion in the wrong neighborhood, you were wearing the wrong clothes or with the wrong people, or you talked the wrong way.
This young man was none of that. There was an extra something mysterious and dangerous about him because he made no sense. He didn’t have a reason and he didn’t need one.
But why was he looking like the world was chasing him? Why was he here at all?
The he took something out of his pocket. It caught the light as he turned it over in his hand.
Now he had my attention. I didn’t look at them directly, but out of the corner of my eye I watched him suddenly staring at me from about 15 feet away.
There will always be tough guys and the poor saps who fall for them. Perhaps it’s exciting to be with someone so different; I don’t know.
Maybe this girl was mistaking fear for adventure. Clearly something had ensnared her, either romance or desperation or loneliness or all three.
The thing in his hand was too small to be a gun and too large to be a ring. I expected it was something like a knuckleduster.
His hands were back in his pockets but he looked different now, taller. Now he had a back scarf wrapped over his nose and mouth too, every inch the swaggering urban thug. I could hardly believe this was happening.
Someone got on and sat down opposite me. Then another.
The young man in the scarf and hoody paid them no attention. He looked like he was making his mind up, and the girl he was with was watching him to see what he would do.
I didn’t feel personally targeted. I just happened to be there. An opportunity, not even the first one that day probably.
There are people in the world who see others like this. I had met them before so I thought I was ready.
The train doors closed and the carriages hurtled through the tunnel. He stood bolt erect as he held onto the rail.
She asked him to sit but again he ignored her. He looked ridiculous in his burglar get up.
At the first station the train was halted without an announcement. Moments later the police boarded.
There were four of them. They walked straight to him and they took his arm.
Suddenly he looked like the skinny, nervous teenager that he actually was again, and his girlfriend looked as unhappy as someone so young can. They were still on the platform when the train was waved on.
I don’t know what this pair did. I looked at the police blotter but found nothing.
I don’t know where they went or why they were picked up. But it was quite clear he was hurtling toward his own destruction.
What I have never understood is why there is so often a young woman who thinks the best thing to do is to join them for the ride.
Why all Irish men’s beards are red