I buried my nose in a book most of the bus ride to work yesterday morning, but upon finishing a chapter I tucked my book in my canvas bag and attempted to read my fellow commuters as we descended into the heart of St. Paul.
From my perch above the rear wheel I could see into the interior of the car idling alongside us at the light. From that angle the driver couldn’t see me. I noticed the woman’s right hand holding a cell phone in her lap, her thumb scrolling through a page of posts as she waited for the light to change. As the bus picked up speed through the light I trained my eyes on the passing cars to see what other drivers might be doing with their hands.
Here was a man in a pickup truck with his right hand resting lightly on the gear shift, his fingers loose around the knob. His vehicle turned out not to be stick, I realized at the stop sign when his hand drifted up to the steering wheel as he accelerated, no need to shift after all.
Near the Ordway a woman cradled a pink phone with her hand buried in the fuzzy sweatered curve of her chest, her lips turned up in a smile as her mouth formed words to the person on the other end of the line.
Next came a woman with her index finger stretched taut on the steering wheel, so intent it bent back in an arc, overextended.
A string of drivers held plastic cards in their right hands, ready to wield them to enter parking garages in the coming blocks. Near the Landmark Center the cards flashed gold on one side, catching the sun; past Wabasha hands held cards that were a faded white, for access to my own staid building’s ramp, I assumed.
I wondered if there was meaning in people’s hands, what they held, how the fingers behaved; I was most curious about the state of mind of the woman with her right index finger bent back, pressed hard against the steering wheel, as if to tell some unseen companion to hush or wait.
I thought about my hands at the dinner table, how often M leans over and lays his right hand on my left to smooth it out; I’ll glance down and see it had been clenched like a claw, not quite a fist, belying some strain I hadn’t known I held.
You’re so tense, he’ll say, though I have no recollection of being tense; I was just sitting there eating dinner, listening to the conversation, I thought, but the left hand curved into a claw reports otherwise.
As the bus approached my stop I wondered what my own hands were doing at that moment.
Looking down at my lap, I found that the fingers of my left hand had wrapped themselves fully around my right wrist in some death grip. My left fingers pressed the silver bracelet on my right arm into the skin like a handcuff, the left fingertips grazing the white scar on the soft underside. My right hand lay limp, apologetic, obedient in the trap of the crushing left, protected and smothered at the same time.
Not what I expected to find: one hand choking the life out of the other.
Might that be me holding my own self back, staying the hand that might otherwise threaten to do great things? Or am I reading too much into these hands that appear to have a life of their own?