Sudoku on the Subway
Ethan Bernard

People do sudoku on the subway, arranging the numbers in regulated grids matching the rails we ride on. It is a puzzle they are likely to solve before entering the office, which brings them pleasure. I enjoy the way the woman smoothes out her complicated skirt as she contemplates the hidden contents of a box. Four, I want to tell her. Or maybe three. My odds are not that bad, and it might spark some kind of conversation. She is the woman I never talk to. Who never talks to me. As we ride on the subway. To work. Bump. The lights dim and return as the train pushes underground, descending into the city. I live far away and the underground must move upwards to reach my apartment.

The people stay hunched over their newspapers, pretending the standing multitudes are not eyeing their seats. The subway smells of still-damp hair and swiftly drunk coffee. An old woman next to me holds a plastic grocery bag filled with carrots. I wonder where she’s going. She offers me a carrot and smiles. I am impressed by her kindness, but decline.

There are numbers on this train. Materializing out of the ether like ghosts, an entire ledger of hidden sums. The doors open. Haberdashery, Women’s Apparel, I want someone to say. But they don’t. They leave. And others take their place. Not quite as many. As we head downtown the city is claiming them slowly like a kind of tax. A large man stretches out on a seat, clutching his paperback, snoring. Only a few pages remain.

Perhaps I lack the sudoku gene, if that’s what one would call it. Maybe sudoku-blind. An inability to see where to place digit after digit, overwhelming. But I can feel them here, smooth, inhabiting the vacant spaces where the people used to stand.

I find pleasure in watching the feverish work of sharpened pencils while I debate what to have for lunch. A Caesar salad with chicken. Maybe a slice of pizza, cheese. Scanning the nearly empty car, I stop, and turn to the old woman and nod in a way that she understands means I have accepted her offer. She smiles again, wider, and reaches into her bag. I don’t ask if the carrot is organic. That wouldn’t be polite. I eat an unpeeled carrot on the subway. It tastes like five.

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