I could tell something was wrong the moment I stepped on the Metro car.
The morning had started off like any other. With daylight saving time now in effect, I’ve been dragging a bit in the morning (pesky internal clock just does not like me getting up before 6:30, which is now 7:30. Ugh.), which means I’ve been leaving the house closer to 9 a.m. Riding the subway to work at a later time means I see different people, and the atmosphere is a little different as well because there are often fewer K Street suits and more commuters dressed in jeans, with a little smattering of ambitious tourists trying to get an early start while foolishly tampering with our system by using Metro during rush hour. No biggie. Usually.
The thing that made them stand out at first was the fact that they were all dressed alike. Khakis with white shirts and red windbreakers. My first thought was AmeriCorps, since they often travel in groups and wear the same getup. But AmeriCorps people always ride together, I thought as I boarded the Red Line in Chinatown. These people are spread out through two or three cars. And they seem to be talking to people. Whatever.
The trains were backed up this morning (as usual), and for some reason, Metro no longer has the trains on autopilot, which would have meant that my Red Line train would have stayed on the platform until the one ahead of us left the platform at Metro Center, which is so close to the Chinatown station that you can see it down the tunnel. But with the trains on manual control, the doors closed and the driver started nudging the train forward.
Again, no biggie. Although I didn’t have my headphones on (the battery on my MP3 player died because I didn’t charge it the night before), I had the current edition of Buddhadharma magazine, which includes coverage of a panel discussion about karma. I’ve been reading the story, which includes insights about karma from three different Buddhist perspectives, for the last few mornings.
As we waited, something red moved in the corner of my eye. It was one of them, and in a clear violation of my personal buffer space (which doesn’t really exist in the context of a semi-crowded Red Line train), he was peering over my shoulder in the most non-subtle of ways. No biggie. I’ve done it too, though with a little more tact. Still, the thought did cross my mind: Why isn’t this AmeriCorps dude with his friends? They always travel in groups.
Well, this guy wasn’t with AmeriCorps.
“Wow, I couldn’t help but notice what you’re reading there. Do you know a lot about karma?” he asked in a quiet voice. I glanced over. He was smiling. He was cute. Was he hitting on me?
“I’ve got my own perspective, so it’s interesting to read about other viewpoints on it,” I replied.
I’ve occasionally had guys hit on my while riding the subway. It’s always a very innocent offer of pleasantries, a casual hello with some kind of ice-breaking line, like, “That’s a great book,” or, “Do you mind if I ask where you got your bag.”
No biggie. But today, something was different.
“Have you ever thought about what the Bible says about karma?” he asked, still smiling and looking quite earnest.
“Uh, no. I haven’t,” I replied politely, returning to my magazine.
And then it happened. On a stopped, semi-crowded subway train, in a smooth, tai chi-like motion, he whipped his Bible out. Before I could say anything, he had it open to a passage about God and divine will. As he read, my eyes shot forward to the front of the car, where there was another person with a red windbreaker, Bible in hand, talking to a woman.
It was then that I realized I was caught in a Christian sting operation.
I’m joking. It wasn’t like that. These were just college students doing the religious version of civic service. Even so, I had a choice to make: engage him in conversation, politely listen or send him on his way. Whatever I did, I wasn’t going to pass judgment (though hadn’t I already? “Cute” had already registered. “Great hair” skipped through the Monkey Mind too).
“Listen, I really want to get back to my magazine. I appreciate it, but I’m pretty focused on this article.”
For a split second, he looked at me but didn’t flinch. He, too, was weighing his choices, I guess. But I’m staring him straight in the eye, and I think he knew I was serious. He broke his eyes away.
“OK. No problem. Have a great day,” he said, the Bible suddenly disappearing into his windbreaker.
I smiled at him and nodded in agreement, but he didn’t return it. His eyes were already scanning the crowd, looking for the next ice breaker.