I stepped into the train and sat down with relief on an empty seat. I had experimented with heels for the first time after many weeks of nursing my sprained ankle, and I wasn't about to get up for anyone. Unless of course some woman was almost about to give birth or some old gentleman was tottering away on his stick. The compartment seemed to be full of healthy young adults, though, and so I scrounged about for my ipod, selected a playlist, and raised my hand to my ear to pop on the headphones.
"Excusez-moi, vous allez ecouter de la musique?"
She had a plain but kindly face. Her hair pulled back into a curly bun a bit frizzy because of the drizzling rain. She had a little caddy with her and a backpack hoisted on one shoulder. A long khaki skirt, a non-descript jacket.
Yes, I answered her. I am going to listen to music.
My hand instinctively clasped over my purse, my New York gut caused me to raise a skeptical eyebrow. One of the first lessons New York teaches you: be wary of strangers on the subway.
"I don't want to disturb you, but I just wanted to request you to think about _______"
"Pardon?" I had not heard. Was she asking for my seat? Did she want to sell me something? Maybe she just wanted to know the time?
I don't want to disturb you, she said. But would I think about Christ before I listened to my music?
Ah. I understood.
"En fait, je n'ai pas bien compris." I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. I don't speak French very well. One headphone in.
"Vous parlez quelle langue?"
"Le Marathi" I spoke the truth. But there was no need to tell this proseleytizer that I spoke a couple of more accessible languages which she might potentially know. Other headphone in. Perhaps this was rude. Perhaps this was a way to end an undesirable conversation with a stranger.
Her lips kept moving. Headphone out. "Oui?"
You're here to study French? Good luck, she said. Headphone in.
She stepped back. The encounter was over. A haunting tune came through my headphones and suddenly dripped into my soul.
She wanted to talk about Christ. God spoke to her and she wanted to spread the message. She wanted to save my soul. She wanted me to contemplate Christ. And I wasn't having any of it. Merely being in the same compartment as her gave me the creeps. As I saw her turn to another woman after a few moments, a shiver ran through me. At the next stop I got off on my aching foot and changed compartments.
Perhaps it is because I have an automatic revulsion to people who want to convince me that my own faith is somehow misplaced. Perhaps it is that I grew up in a more and more apathetic world. Perhaps it is that I think it is an excess of faith. Perhaps it is that I don't think proselytizing is a productive way of life. Whatever it is, I find it scary. I don't find it admirable. I don't find it beautiful. I don't find it dedicated. I find it scary and weird. I find it to be the first step towards religious fanaticism. I find it to be at the bottom of many a "religious" war. I find it to be a more compelling reason than a pregnant woman or an old man to give up my seat and hobble over to the next compartment.
The tune slowly faded out. An upbeat song came on and I shook off the disconcerted feeling with the raindrops that I shook off my umbrella. The goosebumps I hadn't even noticed slowly faded away. And I continued on my way, contemplating a macaron.