Truth Disarms Philosophy of a Metal Frog

by Beatrix Ost

29 August 2015

I know her from other train rides, this conductor. She is the Prime Minister of the Business Class Department. She has her parliamentary seat right on the left as you enter. To rest a little and to oversee her charges.

An astoundingly beautiful black woman in uniform, her hat pulled low over her curly hair, her features forty-plus. I am stunned by the sense of style she radiates despite the unified uniform. It has the rhythm of jazz: precise and unique. It is very much her own tall, long-legged being.

On second thought: on her, the uniform gradually feels like it was designed by the House of Dior. Slim but multitudinous bangles encircle both her wrists. Small bing-bang noises give away her approach as she passes by, tipping into the train’s rough concert spectacle.

We greet one another with a smile.

I have seen you three times now, she says as she passes her scanner over my phone to confirm my ticket.

Yeah, I remember you, but you’ve changed.

I think you got it, the way you look. Nobody looks like you, she says to me. I laugh.

She continues: When I saw you the first time, I was thinking: I have to do something with my hair. With my skin I need platinum white.

She takes off her cap and there it is, what I already suspected peeking through. Platinum white, cropped, dyed hair.

That’s what I did. You inspired me.? Oh, it suits you perfectly.? Mmmm! Give me five!? Tickets, please, she sing as she strolls off with the mien of a queen.

*

I am in New York. Ruben, Valentina’s and Brantly’s friend, is in a play in a small theater on West 45th Street.

When I arrive, Ruben is outside looking up and down the street. He sees me immediately, and waves me up a narrow ladder of stairs to the first floor.

Ruben is very tall, a former basketball star, broad-shouldered. I cannot precisely place that exotic face. Wait, he’s Puerto Rican. A ready, wide smile, dark eyes framed by dark, thick brows, a nice straight nose, lots of black hair. He is roughly handsome, yet one senses a mysterious vein of a dark philosophy.

He is a touch nervous, he says. The play, he says.

I sit down in a small room with a bar, a juice in front of me, waiting for Valentina and Brantly, and Alex, Ruben’s girlfriend.

On the opposite wall, a lively crowd of dark-skinned men and women is bursting with interaction. Laughter, snatches of Spanish conversation, tumultuous potpourri of greeting, kissing, hugging.

I am looking out the window, scanning the street, when a hand grasps my shoulder decisively, turning my body toward it.

You are Beatrix! I know you from the photographs, from the farm. Look, Sophia! she calls to the opposite corner. It’s her! I’m Ruben’s mom, Christina.

Oh, so wonderful to meet you! I say. Yes, yes, Ruben visited me with our friends. I’m so excited to see him in a play.

Oh, me too. Me and my husband, we go every day. We are so proud of him. He nails it better every day, in spite of his partner. In the play that guy gives him all sorts of grief. Imagine: the other day he pushed him onto the floor. He wasn’t supposed to. And Ruben had to rescue the scene. You would never have noticed, but we knew because we had seen it before. He behaved like a gentleman. Totally saved the scene.

You are so right. Ruben looks like a tough guy, but really he is a gentleman. I felt that right away about him.

Beatrix ... she puts her hand on my shoulder. Her face is almost illuminated with the truth she is about to spill in front of me like a gift. She must be in her early sixties, warm and striking. You can see this is a woman who turned a hard life into a conquest.

As her husband strides up behind her, her hand taps my shoulder: You have no idea how Ruben grew up in the Bronx. To become that much of a gentleman ... you have no idea, his upbringing was the roughest you can imagine. The Bronx is no playground. Believe me, I’m his mother. I ought to know. Boy, did we have rough times. But Ruben made it. Look at him now, onstage for me to see every night of the week!

*

The metal frog sitting on the stone ledge by the lily pond feels impelled to express one thing: his astonishment at the relentless misunderstandings that plague the human race.

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