There are seven children under the age of six years old on this car of the train, car 4, on the way to Ottawa from Toronto. Five of them are boys, and they are all seated a few rows away; I do not get to really get to know them or their mannerisms as they spend their time mostly in their seats, spending the majority of the trip staring into iPad screens either watching videos or playing games. When they do talk, they talk loudly, but do not scream or whine. They are well-behaved children.
There is one young girl, perhaps five years old, in the row behind me, and her behavior can be considered saintly even among a train car full of well-behaved children. She barely speaks the entire ride, instead staring intently at the contents of the stack of books she brought with her in her backpack. Between naps and reading, it is almost possible to forget she is there: I hear her only when she asks her father, softly and politely, if she can go to the bathroom towards the end of the trip. She goes on her own, and then returns to her reading in silence.
Just across the aisle from me, a young girl, no more than two years old and most likely several months younger than that, can’t stop smiling. She is the epitome of curious joy: she stares at people who walk by and gazes deeply and intently into the eyes of the passengers next to her. She smiles widely when her eyes meet mine, and laughs when I smile back. We forge a pseudo-silent friendship, making silly faces at each other while her mother listens to something — music, most likely, by the way she occasionally sways her head back and forth — in her earphones to keep her occupied while she is not playing with her daughter.
The young girl’s mother is beautiful. It is a subtle beauty, the kind of beauty that comes from her actions, her expressions, the way she holds her daughter or the way she checks the time on her phone every forty-five minutes or so. Her beauty is easy, in the sense that it exudes from the ease with which she moves in her seat or through the train, or the ease in which she responds to her daughter’s occasional requests for food or attention. It is the kind of beauty that you feel long after you have left the train and climbed into a taxi on the way to your hotel for the night ahead, that makes you forget, momentarily, that your train ran almost an hour late and you missed your dinner reservation.
By the third hour of the train ride, the young girl and I have bonded over our silly faces and our fascination with the terrain slowly creeping past the window. She brings her iPad to me and encourages me to draw with her. We both make indecipherable scribbles on the screen; her, from the limitations of dexterity because of her young age, and me, from my intrinsic inability to draw anything at all. Occasionally, when we pass some cows outside the window, she giggles, and I do too. Her mother passes pours some juice from her silver Swell bottle into a sippy cup and hands it to me: I give it to the young girl to drink while I sip from my bottle of Perrier that I have been slowly nursing from the start of the trip.
By the fourth hour of the trip, my new friend stumbles back into her mother’s lap and falls asleep. I close my eyes and take a quick nap in my seat, too.