Sitting across the aisle from me, a man sports a full face tattoo. His faded beige pants stop halfway down the shins. The arms of a black windbreaker are folded back to let his hands out. He's zipped the jacket all the way up so the decorated head sits abruptly on top like a sculpture on a pedestal.
The man is absorbed in a graphic novel. When he moves his head from side to side, a short, greasy, brown-blond ponytail flops into and out of sight behind it. He's propped a wooden walking cane at an angle against one leg.
I want to steal glimpses of the guy; it's not hard to do as he's glued to the book. But I feel queasy and uncertain. Others are casually getting a load of him, too.
The man is tall and bony, adding to the scary factor. I can almost read the title on the cover of his book: “Strong,” or maybe “Strength,” written in drippy gothic letters over a background of swirling demons.
A glance at a time, I check out the face art. It's nothing more than an elaborate, symmetrical doodle of snaky curlicues, with flanges added to the smooth curves next to the eyes, and in the corners of the jaw. Done in a single shade of medium blue, shaded to add dimension, it looks exactly like an ironwork mask.
I'm afraid to look hard at him, though he's inviting it, isn't he? I imagine the conversation:
“You lookin' at me? You lookin' at me?”
“No, I'm lookin' at that . . . grease stain . . . on the seat.”
“You're lookin' at my face tattoo!”
“Sorry. Yes, I am. I'm staring at your unbelievable face tattoo.”
“You could just say 'Hey, that's an awesome face tattoo.' It's not like I'm hiding it.”
"I'm really sorry, man. Your face tattoo isn't that awesome, anyway. I looked on Google images (http://tinyurl.com/cosy4eu) and there are some real monsters out there."
In my mind it goes like that.
He looks up once in awhile from the book, as if startled, eyes following an invisible moving spot floating around inside the face cage. I could move to another seat but the fascination grips me tighter than the horror and I keep my seat.
As he gets up to go, I'm staring at him. I want our eyes to meet. I want to see the person in there. Is he trying to get out? I'm sure if I could peep into his soul windows for an instant and catch a gliimpse of the emotional and sensate being catching a gliimpse of me, the mystery would lose some of its charge.
But no. He shows no interest in anything outside of the book. He gets up and leaves at Skidmore Fountain, walking slowly, thoughtfully, alone. Towards Old Town and, I imagine, a free breakfast at a mission.