on the subway

Two boys, brothers, with creamed-coffee skin and halos of long kinky hair that’s just a shade darker. The older one plays guitar by the doors, the younger one sits on the bench and plays bongos, it’s a halfhearted rendition of “Norweigian Wood.” The younger one’s fingers are gifted, and he is languid. He takes off his glasses with one hand, tucking them into his shirt,  still tapping the beat with the other. The song ends far short of the coming stop. The tips are collected in a plastic bag. The train jerks across the bridge. The boy puts his drums aside and makes a fist, which he tries ambitiously to shove into his mouth.

He knows I’ve been watching him. I ask, “Does it fit?” He shakes his head. He tries again, compressing the fist first with his other hand and stretching his mouth to its limit. “Ouch,” he says softly to no one, pulling his hand away. “That hurt.” There is one final attempt, again falling short of success. The train slows into the station, and he slides out after his brother just as the doors are closing.

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