I decided his name was Marlin. It just felt right. An old style name for a man who obviously wasn’t all that comfortable in this decade, for all that he was in his early twenties. His black suit was slightly too small and over-drycleaned, the white shirt slightly transparent. His too-short pants legs revealed thick black socks but worn brown shoes that featured two different colors of polish. He carried a faded, gray felt hat and a hardcover book missing its jacket, his hand obscuring the title on the spine. The only part of his attire that looked at all wealthy was a bright blue silk tie and pocket square set. I decided they had been a gift to him.
He sat there, chewing absently on the inside of his lip, occasionally smiling to himself or holding in a yawn, oblivious to the rest of the midday traffic. He had entered the train at MGH and, though I desperately wanted to talk to him, find out what book he was carrying, I found myself held back by his seemingly contented self-absorption.
Instead I started to build a life for him. He was a medical student, since he had gotten on by the hospital, during his last bit of residency. He came from a rural town up in Maine and that was his father’s suit, the tie the only new thing his mother had been able to afford to give him as he was heading off to the city to become a doctor. Because that was all he had ever wanted to be. He had been a healer all his life: stray birds, childhood scrapes and bumps. He never flinched at blood or a broken bone. The town had banded together and raised as much money as they could to send him off to the big city, because they knew it was expensive. Marlin didn’t have the heart to tell them that they only managed to raise enough money for half of one semester. He thanked them profusely, joking that now he didn’t need to find a job while studying.
He planned to return to his home town when he had finished, open a practice with emergency services out in the rural area so things like his father’s accident weren’t such a tragedy. So he focused on trauma medicine, spending as much free time in the ER as humanly possible. In fact, he was just getting off shift now. It had been a good night, no deaths, and slow enough that he could flirt with the desk nurse. He had started to hope that she might follow him home. Maybe at first just as a new nurse for his practice, maybe as more later, when they knew each other better.
The train was entering Harvard now and Marlin stood, shedding the story I had created for him. I wanted to follow him out of the train, catch up to him and talk to him, ask him about his childhood sister and their farm, playing freeze tag in the cow pasture where they pretended that cow patties were freezing landmines. But he was gone and the doors were closed by the time I had worked up the courage to follow.
Also, this guy:
Yes, he’s feeding a baby squirrel, on the Red Line in Boston.