She steps onto the crowded subway and pauses, as if she doesn't quite know what to do with herself in the unnaturally lit train. Dark eyes flicker back and forth between the faces, until a man stands up to offer her his corner seat. Hesitantly she lifts her lips into the smallest smile and sits with unnatural poise, setting her bag at her feet and pulling her knit burgundy shawl closer to herself.
She is a separate entity from the flashing tunnel lights and dirty graffiti on the wall, so far out of place that the small boy sitting next to her begins to stare. She wears no finery, her only decoration the fine wrinkles fanning from her eyes and an unobtrusive necklace. The dulled golden chain lies imperfectly around her layered collar, giving the impression of the small matching oval cascading downwards and becoming lost in the fabric, a slight glint from the inscribed "S" the only reminder of its presence. She notices the boy's gaze as it drifts to the jewelry, and her passive face is instantly made expressive through the slightest tilt of her faded lipstick mouth. Her hand delicately, almost politely, makes its way to the necklace, covers it as her eyes flash an imperial warning. The boy, confused, drops his gaze.
This woman does not belong here, but the man who offered his seat notices that it is not timidity that separates her from her surroundings, although he cannot put his finger on the trait he is thinking of. Dark brown, wispy hair gathered into a low bun frames pale, slightly creased skin, and her fingers are long and aristocratic as they release the pendant and smooth the yarn of her shawl. Her face hints of eastern Europe, and her nose hooks just enough to suggest a regality that his since gone out of the world, frost on palace windows, Koschei rides thundering through the pine forest and dark, rich songs around the hearth as we dance the Kamarinskaya to keep the night at bay. When she sees him looking, she stares him down.
Her bag is close before her feet, carefully in her sight. It seems an odd match for her, a plain canvas bag with two handles, as if she had bought it to carry her groceries. No food is to be seen, but a wide pink ribbon has found its way out around the top and weaved itself through one of the handles before draping down towards the grimy subway floor. It shines like satin.
The little boy asks her a question in a soft voice that no one else can hear. She jumps, and for just a moment she has faltered, revealed to the world that she exists alongside them and yes, their words and odd glances can penetrate the disdainful angle at which she holds her head.
He repeats his question, and her lips tighten as she shakes her head.
"No English," she says tersely.
The boy's eyes grow wide.
She glances around, subtly clutches at her shawl.
She reaches down into her bag, gracefully untangling the ribbon. When she straightens back up, she is holding a pale pink ballet shoe, curving gracefully to a hardened point. Two ribbons cascade onto her lap as she shows the boy, watching his reaction carefully, then pulls out a program for the Mariinsky Ballet.
The boy smiles bashfully and pulls on his mother's sleeve.
The woman smiles back.