Spilled Rice

It was a snack-lunch on the move. A granola bar on the E Train from Grand Central to JFK. The kids were at school and prepped for a week without me – doing more than fine with the idea because having babysitters pick them up from school is kind of fancy, having a friend pick them up and take them to her place is fun and having Dad take the afternoon off to pick them up and hang out is just awesome.

I’ve cooked and frozen a few meals and done plenty of groceries for them but they’ll probably take the excuse to eat out and then tease me about what a treat my week away was.

By the time the train starts making local stops in Queens, the carriage is half empty – just a few people shrouded in lumpy puffer coats here and there. The girl next to me is reading but it’s on her iPhone so I can’t read over her shoulder.

A couple of women in the middle section chat intermittently, like friendly strangers passing the ride or reserved colleagues on their way home from work. Opposite me a very round boy drops off to sleep, his head lolling against the ad for Dr. Zizmore dermatologist and plastic surgery. A container in a bag on his lap falls to the floor and his grandmother, all angles and worn edges, snaps the bag from his hand and reprimands him in Spanish.

The girl next to me goes back to her e-book and the carriage, which now smells of a spilled Chipotle rice & beans, shudders towards Jamaica.

Suddenly the boy is standing in the middle section of the carriage, shouting and crying. His grandmother drops a napkin over the pile of rice at her feet and goes to the middle section nearer to him. He hurtles to the back doors and sobs and shouts again.  The train stops and my heart slows. He’s much too old for tantrums like this but too young to get off the train on his own. Grandmother goes to the other end and sits a distance from him but he stomps back back to stand by the door next to my seat. A tear trickles past the arm of his glasses, which he’s outgrown and now dig into his cheeks. He wheezes and pulls himself together with a faint groan. He’s too young for this.

The two women sitting in the middle exchange a “one-of-those-days” half-smile with the grandmother, but I don’t think this is one of them. Kids who have enough good days don’t react like this to bad ones.We’ve all been overtired and perhaps over-reacted to a mess. It happens and I won’t presume to know their story from one scene. But this scene jars. A boy who’s not coping,  a grandmother possibly overstretched but strict in all the wrong places and a family that can’t give or receive comfort when it’s needed. Would the boy receive a hug even if it was offered?

They get off – together, at least. I see her follow him up the stairs a few paces behind him and when the doors close the meaty food smell dissipates as the food congeals. At the next stop a girls in scrubs gets on and sits in their seat, her feet astide the meal that to her, has no story to tell. Three more stops to Jamaica, then on to Australia.

When I get back I’ll roll my eyes at the food that wasn’t eaten in my absence. I’ll let them tease me and ham up my redundancy. But I’ll cook something nice and let the smells seep through the house and some day something will remind them of those smells and our apartment and feeling good. And if they’re having a rough patch it’ll give them the resilience to ride it out.

My response to a January lunch time challenge from the Daily Post #dpchallenge