Scarlet—like a cardinal with shining feathers, this squarish velvet cap nestle down over his hair. The hair peeks out as black wing tips, though the stubble on his chin is white grey. His face is more pock marked than wrinkled. From the stillness—the half breathe moment of stillness after the subway doors close and before the new riders are quite settled and the train jolts to a go—his motion flows, imperceptibly at first, right forefinger and thumb drawing together over each of the fingers of his left hand, from the cool hollow between the fingers, pressing up each fingers’ medians and joining over the apex, waxy scarred fingers with the blue veins running hot below a thick, opalescent surface.
It is impossible to say how old he is. I imagine that like Carson McCullers’ jockey, he’s stopped sweating. Not letting moisture escape, like cactus, in a singed environment. He holds his hand to slowly work his wrist in circles. I wonder if he is Tibetan or Cambodian. In circles, he moves his arm at the elbow then feels each ribbon of muscle in his forearm. The glossy pink scars streaked over the features of the Cambodian Pol Pot regime survivors, dusty in the streets of Phenom Penh. Through my jersey skirt, I finger the thin scar streaking across my thigh over my stocking top. If we broke open at these places, we’d ooze like aloe, healing goo, the healing that comes from the most broken places, experiences.
He rolls his shoulder, works his arm up over his head. His hands press his thighs through his thin canvas pants. His thumbs run along the line of his femur; the bone, he cleaves muscle and bone with his thumb that has barely a nail. He draws his hands in prayer form to his heart center. Tonglen; I breath.
Beside him, a young woman is working the ends of her long auburn ponytail with her fingers; measuring off and turning bits with a beautician’s flick, pedaling strands through her fingers like the quarter trick, turning the coins over knuckle to knuckle. Her pale pink ankles are dry above the dingy pink sneakers.
Over her shoulder, past the subway door, a woman, with hoop earrings and a mouth huge and round, has rhinestone mandalas at the ankles of her boots. The fluorescent light on her green vinyl purse jumps in white over the subway seats, pooling on the orange plastic.
Across from the woman of circles, an old black man. Across from the woman of circles, an old man who lifts the leg of his trousers, his skinny leg above his black sock, rubs the ash out of his brown skin, in circles with his thumb.
At the far end of the car, the beautiful man—his dark sideburns cut parallel to his jaw. His feet casually wide in well-worn cowboy boots, planted on either side of his wet black umbrella and bag. Jeans. His black cased guitar. He reads the paper from moment to moment
I think the meditator has fallen asleep, but he has leaned deeply left along the back of the 3-wide subway seat with his thin back the pole in his tent coat. His eyes are only partially closed. He comes to upright center. He sweeps right, deeply into my space, sitting in the first seat perpendicular, to the point of scarlet not far from my chest. I hold my breathe, like waiting for deer
The train sways, stops, people leave and enter. He repeats.
Across the aisle, two Russian ladies watch and discuss quietly. Across from us, a man straddles a big Victoria’s Secret bag. Beside him, a woman pulls the novel she’s reading from a Daffy’s bag.
The cardinal climbs back to center
In the next pause, the stop is Cortelyou, and inspired—I leave to seek moma.
According to my composed, biscuit offering cubicle mate, the corner shop is a gustatory destination. For moma.
Have you been to the Momo shop, she asks?
Moma? I repeat, wondering about modern art satellites in Brooklyn.
Next to the subway stop, she adds.
With the coin operated pink pony? I am totally bewildered, but that’s what’s on the corner.
Yes, they are the only place in New York with authentic momos.
Which, it turns out, are steamed Tibetan dumplings.
I mostly go to this shop for pashminas and Japanese cracker sticks you dip in frosting (disgusting—I know, but they have impossibly cute critters on them with sayings like “active in the night” for the bat”). The night shift guy and I have had fantastic short conversations sparked by his Dalai Lama photo.
When I came in late Saturday night and asked if they, in fact, make momo, he hustled me to the back freezers, and we hunched over the rows and rows of frosted little bundles in silver pans. Rows of carefully wrapped yak, chicken and –yes!—veggies.
On my way out, I stop by the one bunch of all white gerbera daisies. They are so fantastic—sharp, creamy white like goat cheese with some plumy fuchsia at their centers, skirted in waxy emerald leaves—evergreen looking, evergreen evoking, primitive even, in their structure around the wide-eyed daisies.
I’ll go back someday to try the moma, he insists, and for a price comparison, to gauge my discount. I split the bouquet between my room and my new flatmates.
All of this was before I knew about the anti-China protests in Tibet, violently repressed. The Dalai Lama is calling it cultural genocide; the Dalai Lama is calling the ongoing violence as a result of Chinese rule and oppression “cultural genocide.” The protests have spread to India, Pakistan—what will happen in Beijing?
Buddhist monks are protesting. The shorn headed monks in their robes of marigold-orange& crimson are being killed by Chinese government forces, soldiers, and killing themselves. I did not learn about the protests in Tibet until the morning after I saw the man in his scarlet cap practicing his limb-by-limb meditation on the Q.