The other day I was in the subway when an argument broke out between two young women. It was crowded, and one of them had accidentally bumped into the other.
The first woman had said "excuse me" but apparently that wasn't enough for the irate recipient of the bump.
"You just kicked me!" she said. "You should say you're sorry."
"I didn't kick you" the first woman countered, "And I said, 'excuse me'."
"You didn't say you're sorry - and your foot was on top of mine!"
"I didn't kick you."
The conversation continued in circles, with each woman repeating the same things she had already said - and each new round featuring the addition of foul language, recommendations to use private transportation, and the threat of smacking the other person in the face. Every time they were quiet for a few moments I thought they were done with it - but then they would just started up again, getting more and more vehement. I watched them nervously, wondering whether I should step in - but knowing that it probably wouldn't do any good. Finally they stopped. Or, at least, I thought they had stopped....
But then as the woman who had been kicked was getting off the train she threw her elbow into the other woman. She must have been thinking she was going to get in her last licks as she left - but suddenly the first woman grabbed her by the hair, pulling her back into the car and yanking her head down toward the ground.
That was when the people standing closest to them got involved. Somehow, they managed to pry the women apart, and the one who had been leaving got off the train. The passengers seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief when the doors closed and we started moving again, but the air was still charged with the echo of violence.
The car was still pretty packed, and I was standing in the aisle when I felt a jolt.
"Sorry." It was a young guy who had been instrumental in the breakup. He was sitting in a chair near where I was standing and he had accidentally kicked my foot.
"S'okay." I said immediately.
Then, making the connection at the same time, we looked at each other and laughed. Without thinking, we grasped one other's hand. It was only for an instant - an instinctive handshake that acknowledged everything that had just happened.
Then just as quickly the moment was gone. I put my hand in my pocket and looked away... And we were all just strangers on the train again.