The set of her jaw gave away the fact that she was upset. That and the way she kept worrying a strand of her hair as she stared out of the window on the train—seeing everything, but likely seeing nothing at the same time, twisting the errant strand perpetually around her index finger. She wore the look of someone whose mind was clearly elsewhere.
The train wasn't crowded. She had a row all to herself with a smattering of people scattered throughout the car. A man—maybe in his late forties—sat in row across the aisle, fiddling with his BlackBerry. A book she had been reading lay forgotten on the seat next to her. She was struggling, and that was obvious too from the way her jaw would tighten and unclench.
And then it happened: A lone tear snaked down her cheek. Just one. And after she wiped it away, she studied her fingertips as if the moisture held some answer that she was trying to decipher. She bit her lip perhaps in an attempt to hold in the hurt she was feeling, but it wouldn't be contained. As she looked up, her eyes were filled with a storm that threatened to burst.
When her resolve broke, she didn't make a sound. Her body didn't shake with sobs. Her face didn't distort with sorrow and pain. Her hurt did not make her ugly. The large tears that rolled in quick succession down her cheeks did nothing to diminish her beauty. She was a picture of fragility, but there was something of strength in her too. She had shut her eyes, though that did nothing to stem her tears which came faster, but in that moment of resignation, she seemed more in control of the situation than one might think. She had accepted that whatever she was feeling needed to run its course.
After a few minutes, she wiped her cheeks furiously. Whether or not her feelings had been purged, she had decided the moment was over. Her lower lip trembled, and she took a steadying breath. She gathered her things and prepared to disembark, her cheeks still wet and now slightly aglow. As she passed the only traveler close enough to have witnessed her sadness, he reached out and squeezed her hand. He offered a smile and a few murmured words: "It will pass. It's better to know life's hurts early. It will pass."
She nodded mutely, as a lone tear—one that refused to be contained—meandered down her cheek. She made no move to wipe it away but managed a shaky smile. It was a private pain shared publicly, and yet, the moment was still private, perhaps made so by the stranger's compassionate intervention.