When I lived in Chicago, I used to love taking the el through the city at night, past the old brick tenement buildings that bellied up to the train tracks. In any given building, people would be going about their business with blinds open and lights on. I could look over at a building and see dozens of discrete little pods of life happening; one woman washing dishes, some kids watching TV. I could see these brief, framed scenes all at once, but the people in them were oblivious to the neighbors above or two doors over.
I get the same voyeurestic pleasure, though less visually interesting, from overhearing snatches of cell phone conversations on the city bus. Usually it's nothing much: "Yeah, what's up. Leaving work. On the bus. Call you later."
But sometimes there will be a minor drama performed for your pleasure. Coming home from work today, I was riveted to the conversation of the girl behind me.
"I am sitting down. What is it?"
"Oh my God, I think my heart just stopped. I really think it did........ I don't know whether to be depressed or excited.... Do your parents know?"
and then, the confirmation, which I had already guessed:
"When are you due?"
It was tense. The new Mother is named Dana. The pregnancy, obviously unplanned. She's going to keep it. She's turning 21 soon, and a little annoyed that she won't be able to drink on her 21st. Twins don't run in the family.
Dana's friend on the bus is supportive, but asking hard questions:
"Don't take this the wrong way, but are you ready for this? Are you covered by insurance?"
I have no doubts that I was not the only one bending my ear to the point of muscle strain in this girl's direction, marvelling at the uncanny way in which perfect strangers briefly share the most intimate moments.