I kept walking, and could hear the crumpling of a plastic bag from behind. He was gaining on me. In the middle of the platform, before you reach the train doors, there's a garbage receptacle. Into this, the guy tossed the Cheez-It bag.
I veered to the right of the receptacle and got onto my train; he went left.
THERE'S THIS GUY who takes the same train as me on the way home, sits in the same car I usually do. His face is permanently flushed bright pink and I've seen his hair range from overgrown to close-cropped and back again. He's almost always one of the first to get on the train, and he likes to engage other passengers in debates about the fortunes of the local sports teams, the Sox in particular, and tell them why they are wrong. I think he may actually be a Yankees fan.
The most distinctive thing about about him, however, is his collection of newspapers. Every day, he has dozens or maybe even hundreds of papers, all packed tightly into several white plastic grocery bags, forming these large, solid blocks of newsprint. Sometimes I'll get on the train and he won't be there yet, but the bags of newspapers will be, taking up the entire two-seater bench where he usually sits and maybe spilling over onto the floor. This is all he ever has with him.
Before the train gets too full he puts them up on the overhead luggage rack to make room for sitting. Later, as the train pulls away from the stop before his, he hauls then down again and carries them to the end of the car in preparation for getting off the train. After he gets off, from my window I can see him ambling along the platform with an uneven gait, three or four of his bulky newspaper cubes hanging at the end of his arms on either side.
Today the conductor on my part of the train was someone I'm not familiar with. She seemed like a friendly sort, with a voice that carries well, a good trait in a conductor I guess. I heard her ask him why he collects all the papers.
"I bring them to a nursing home," he told her. "You probably know who I am, I'm around South Station all the time."
"No, I don't."
He seemed genuinely shocked. "Everybody knows who I am!"
"Well, I guess I'm not everybody!" It was the tone of an indulgent adult speaking to a child she thinks is being patently ridiculous, but then she said she's never in South Station and quickly segued into, "So you take them to a nursing home, that's a nice thing to do."
They talked for a little while longer, but the train was about to pull into his stop. She had to get the doors, and he had newspapers to carry.
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