By Luann Lewis
Emily realized there was a good reason the poets call it a “sea of faces.” Standing here in Union Station at rush hour, it truly felt like a sea. There were actual waves of people. Heads of all types bobbed and mingled, pushing past each other, a virtual tsunami and she was, as always, afraid to step into it, feeling as if she’d be swept away. This time of day always overwhelmed her; how could she fully comprehend that each of these heads belonged to a human being just as real and strong and profound as herself? Emily tried to make out features in the faces, but they blurred together in the bustle and noise. The exhaust from the trains and the roar of the engines added to the chaos. Hats stood out with their color and logos: Cubs, Miller, Baja…but the faces were like a sheet of postage stamps, or like quickly flipping through a magazine. They blended into nothingness, into a mass of blank heads. Feeling isolated, she shook off the feeling that she was the only real human here. And just as she cared nothing for any of these strangers, she knew they cared nothing for her.
Wondering how she looked to the people around her, what message her expression was putting across, she tried to paint pleasantness across her features, turning her lips up at the corners and squinting her eyes in a friendly manner. She forcefully resolved to fight the frown that continually found its way onto her forehead. She wanted to stand out. She wanted glances at her to reveal a person she may not actually be, but somebody she wished to be.
In front of her, however, each face that passed was like a light with the switch turned off, dull and empty and unknown. Then, far across the room, one face burst out of the ocean like a magnificent star leaping above the waves. One face radiated like the sun had passed across it. This was a face she was familiar with. Even if she was blind, she was sure she’d know he was there, perhaps from instinct. And if she were close enough, she would know his scent; starched shirts and crisp suits with a light fragrance of elegant aftershave. She would know his skin, smooth to the touch but strong and resilient, muscles firm under her fingers in ways that made his arms so different than hers.
She was not blind to that face. It sparkled out from all the others. The strangers’ faces moved back and forth, going nowhere and everywhere all at once. But his face moved easily through the crowd. Dark brows in the slightest frown of thought, his brown eyes seeking, strong cheekbones and jaw all fitting together in a pattern that had taken her breath away more than once. She recalled their feel as she stroked his face with her fingertips in the middle of the night. To say he was handsome would be such an understatement she would have laughed at anyone who offered that appraisal. “Dazzling” would be the least of the words she might have used. And she remembered his smile; those perfect teeth, the warmth of his eyes.
In days gone by, they used to meet at the train like this from time to time. He’d sweep her up and make her real. She wasn’t just another indistinct head or a blurred nonentity, she was a living being.
That, however, was two years ago,and she hadn’t seen him since the day he walked out on her. To see him now so unexpectedly caused a delightful and painful ache. The sight of him ignited a longing she thought she had doused with nights full of tears.
Emily stood on her tiptoes, trying to raise her head and be noticed. She even waved her arm a bit. There would be no harm in a quick greeting. “Michael! Michael!” she called out, but the noise of the hundreds of conversations, the five or six trains and the men selling papers and flowers and popcorn drowned out the sound of her voice even to herself. Still, her heart danced for a moment as he turned, scanned the crowd and looked straight toward her. “Michael!” she tried again and waved her arm.
But that handsome face kept its modest frown, and those deep, dark eyes passed over her. That perfectly cut jaw didn’t so much as twitch; no smile rose to his lips. He had looked right at her, but she seemed to become just another face to him, just another head bobbing to and from work.
No, that was impossible. Emily couldn’t believe it. No way would he just forget about her, about all they had. Perhaps he was still upset with her. He must have been pretending not to know her. He must have wanted to hurt her…and he did. She would have to let him know how much when they talked. So Emily pushed her way forward, trying to wade through the tide of broad shoulders and wide hips, but she never took her eyes off the target, the prize, the face.
Then the payoff; his eyes lit up, the smile she’d been waiting for sprung wildly to his lips and his arms reached forward, but he didn’t reach for her. Michael bent and kissed the glowing blond hair of a faceless woman, someone tall and elegant, wearing a long coat and spiky heels. With a protective arm around her back, Michael led her away, away from Emily and out of the station, leaving Emily standing there amidst the thousands of people she didn’t know, didn’t see, and didn’t care about.