It might be Wednesday, but only because it needed to be called something. Every day was the same as the last, as the next. Step out of a condominium grey building with condominium grey glass sides, walk down the condominium grey sidewalk to the condominium grey subway entrance (with a cheery red transit sign, an exception to prove the rule), and step down the condominium grey stairs with all the other condominium grey people.
Even the most stubborn optimist was eventually ground down by the monotony of the city in winter.
Max was an optimist, though the flame of this optimism was well hidden in the cold recesses of his winter heart, damped down against the polar vortex gripping the the city. He was optimistic that spring would eventually come, that he would eventually have more than his cat and his goldfish to come home to at night. That this was not the way it needed to be.
He was by his nature a vibrant and colourful person, full of love for life and colour. He was a talented and life-long student of the cello, which he taught evenings and weekends to tone-deaf children and their uniformly sexy, middle-aged mothers looking to rekindle the musical delights of their youth. He taught them the same as their children. It didn’t matter. Their music was a grey as their smiles, their coats, and their lives.
When the winter came and the temperatures dipped the way they had this year, the darkness and swirling snow and throngs of people smelling of damp wool and stale cigarettes started to get him down. Especially the morning commute on a subway line that was already overfull even without the winter coats and hats and carry-all bags. No colour. No light. No hope. He banked the embers of his optimism in his heart and, head down, trudged along with the rest of them. And so like cattle to the slaughter, Max and the rest of the denizens of the city made their way through the crowded subway system and off to work.
In his case, it was to an office in the core, where he worked as a web developer. For the rest of them he could only guess. That guy looked pretty severe, so maybe he was a lawyer. The woman over there, leaning against the subway doors as they all swayed back and forth with the movement of the train, she could be a school teacher. Or a university professor.
This was a game he played frequently, guessing what all the grey people around him were like. Almost all of them were as pale and grey as he felt. And so he looked from one to the next, always careful not to make eye contact (an unwritten rule of living in the city – never make eye contact), guessing at what it was they did once they departed the train.
He looks like a grocer. Her a ballet dancer, with her pale skin and gaunt cheekbones. That one was a stock broker, the pinstripes were a dead give-away. The two giggling teenaged girls over there in the corner, with their oversized backpacks spilling out across the floor were obviously students now, though the one on the left looked like the sort of person he’d expect to find sitting behind the desk at the veterinarian’s office. Construction worker (hard-hat), street-meat vendor, graphic designer. He went on and on, scanning the grey crowd until his eyes happened on her.
She was a flare of colour in the black-and-white world, as startling and breathtaking as seeing The Wizard of Oz was the first time. He felt his heart skip a beat in his chest even as the subway swerved and he lost sight of her for a moment. But then, as the train settled back into it’s groove, there she was again. This one, he thought, as the optimism deep inside his chest flashed into a bonfire in his heart. This one, she wasn’t in marketing, or a bank teller or a doctor. She was something more. A goddess among insects.
The subway slid into the cradle of Union station, and the doors opened to disgorge the trains occupants into the busy station. The girl slid her book into her bag and stepped off the train as Max watched. He felt his heart clench at the realization that he would no longer bask in the glow of this woman. Even though it wasn’t his stop, he pushed his way through the crowd of people stepping onto the train. He did this without thinking, as if it were a part of his nature, the way a sunflower turns it’s face to the sun.
It was tough going pushing past the people on the platform, and though he lost sight of her a few times, he swore he could almost smell her, a faint vanilla against the sea of wet woollen coats. And as he pressed on through the crowd, he gained on her. At the top of the stairs, he finally managed to touch her on the shoulder. She turned, and the scent of vanilla, still subtle, filled his mind.
“Hello!” she said to him with a smile, as if they had known each other forever.
He looked into her eyes, eyes that were mysteries he felt he had known his whole life, and heard himself answer “Hey! How’re you doing today?”
Around them the condominium grey world, full of it’s condominium grey people and condominium grey scents and condominium grey sounds ceased to be of any importance.