It happens almost once a week that I find myself on a train mere feet away from someone I know, usually from church, and who I will not interact with at all during our 10-20 minutes of riding public transit together. We won’t look at each other, and we certainly won’t speak. I mean, I will look at them, but only long enough to make the “incidental” eye contact that would make it acceptable to smile in recognition and say hello. Then I look away. I don’t know, while I’m looking away are they trying to make incidental eye contact with me?
This feels strange. I fear I’m being rude by not greeting people I know and that they’re going to recount it to someone later, like, “I was on a train with him for eight stops and he didn’t even say hi.” But I follow this self-imposed protocol for fear of being intrusive. We all seem very occupied on public, mostly with our phones but also with books or magazines. We have perfected the inaudible signal that says, “Don’t speak to me.” To break into someone’s personal time during their commute feels uninvited and irritating.
We are a city teeming with people, strangers to one another in the most crowded of spaces, even among friends.