I had gotten on the train at the end of the line stop, and as usual, only one or two other people were in the car with me. I sat and graded papers while the edges of San Francisco whizzed by below.
We pulled into the Glen Park stop, and a man, woman, and small child got on the train along with a few other people. The little boy was crying, but I didn’t initially pay them any mind. However, the man had a loud, booming voice, and so, though they were several rows behind me, when he started yelling at this boy, three years old at the most, to “shut the fuck up” I couldn’t help but hear.
He continued to yell at the boy, “Shut the fuck up. Don’t be a fucking baby.” And the boy just cried harder and harder.
Everyone else on the train had on their earphones and were engrossed in whatever was happening on their phones. I was utterly unable to pull myself away from the boy’s sobs to concentrate on my work, so I turned around and glared at the man. He was big and heavily muscled. The woman he was with was too skinny. Her teeth were rotted away, and she seemed not in control of herself. She sat, impassive to the boy and to her partner’s hollering, holding her head.
The man kept yelling. The boy sobbed, his little body shaking with gasps, tears and snot running down his face. I found I was staring. I was too upset. I finally said, “He’s just a little boy.”
The man looked at me and said, “What the fuck you lookin at?” I said again, “He’s just a little boy.”
The man got up out of his seat and came over to me. He loomed over me and yelled, “You push that baby out of your pussy?” I said, “He’s just a little boy.”
The man asked again, “You push him out your pussy?”
I said, “No, of course not, but he’s just a little boy.”
Every muscle in the man’s arms tensed. His face broke, livid with rage. I was vaguely aware of the fact that no one on the train was looking at us. Though this large man stood over me, appearing ready to hit me, everyone ignored what was happening.
The man struggled to control his rage and said, “You mind your own fucking business. You didn’t push that baby out of your pussy, and so you have nothing to do with what’s going on.”
I said one last time, quietly now, “He’s just a little boy.”
The man turned and went back to where the woman and still-crying child were. He told the boy again to shut the fuck up. The train pulled into the next stop, and the man grabbed him and hurried off the train, the woman trailing behind.
I sat, doing nothing, unable to think. I shook with fear and rage and considered trying to contact the train operator, but what would I say? What would the train operator do? Should I call the police? What would the police do? In the end, I did nothing. I went back to grading papers.