The subway was crowded. It was rush hour on a Monday morning. Having boarded the train at the beginning of the line, I found an empty seat and I was glad not to be squeezed among the passengers who kept filling the car as we were approaching midtown. My apprehension grew with the movement of the train. I had a job interview scheduled in less than 30 minutes and, being the kind of candidate who loses his poise when an important decision is at stake and who remains mute when asked the simplest question, I tried to control my stage fright and channel my attention outward. I noticed sitting next to me an elegant woman who wore an expensive coat, obviously bought in a designer’s store. It was a bright red garment, different from the usual black jackets New Yorkers generally wear in the severe months of winter. In the subway car the woman resembled an apparition from a fairy tale. She was smiling, ignoring (or so it seemed) the stern-faced people around her. She came from another world and her presence on the train felt like a happy mistake.
The woman was holding a book in her hands and I was curious to know what so unusual a passenger was reading. Certainly nothing ordinary like a banal choice from the bestsellers’ list. Maybe the memoir of an Indian philosopher or a novel in a rare foreign language? I had to find out. The book was part of the person, a clue more revealing than many other pedestrian details and I had always been an avid player of the game: “Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are.” I tried to look over the woman’s shoulder and, to my surprise, I found she was holding the book upside down, although attentively perusing it. I could not avert my eyes from this peculiar person, easily nicknamed “the reverse reader on the 1 train”. Suddenly, a young man with long hair started playing the guitar in a very loud manner, but she didn’t seem to even notice him. After a moment, as the train was rattling along, she closed the book but kept it in her hands with a tight grip, as if it were a most precious object, a glittering diamond in the subway, so different from the worn out books people read on their ride before burying them in their bag when they arrive at their destination. Descending from the cloud that isolated her from the rest of the world, she realized how interested I was, which embarrassed me greatly. She looked at me triumphantly and said, “You like my book, don’t you?” I nodded, not knowing what to answer. She added, “It’s my book, you know.” I mumbled, “Sure,” ashamed of being so obviously curious. “It’s really my book. I wrote it and it came out today. I’m so happy. Would you believe it took me five years to write? And now it’s here, like a newborn child. Please, take a look at it! Isn’t the cover beautiful?” She handed me the copy; the cover was glossy and crisp. The title read “Lost Object”. Under the title I saw the indication in italics A Novel. I held the book in my hands, unable to make a comment. I heard her last words: “Keep it. You will be my first reader.” The train stopped and she left the car.
I opened the gift and started reading the first pages. It was a war story, a fast-paced narrative of characters torn in combat and violence. Soon the shrieking noise of the train wheels became the shrieking noise of warning sirens. After what seemed a long moment, the train stopped. I raised my eyes and saw the sign: “Wall Street”. I had missed my stop. Looking at my watch, I realized I would never make it in time for the job interview. I didn’t care. I went on reading “Lost Object”. After a noisy stretch, the train was now slowing down until it stopped completely. I barely heard the announcement informing the passengers there would be a delay due to “an incident ahead of us”. I had my book.