Portrait of Baron Joseph Vialetes de Mortarieu – J.A.D. Ingres
The boy gets on the bus, a yellowed Penguin Classic in his hand. I’m drawn to notice him first because of the book and then because of his face. He looks like something from another era – dark, tousled curls, an open smiling face — patrician, like a 19th century painting.
He sits down in the sideways seat in front of me. He’s maybe in his late teens, yet he has no electronic device of any sort plugged anywhere into his person. He has no visible piercings or tattoos. His shoes are tied, his shorts fit.
He opens the book, the faded Penguin, his dark eyes fix instantly on the page.
I wonder what he’s reading with such enthusiasm. It all seems so incongruous. I strain to read the tiny print in the header. It’s too small. I want to know what this boy is reading.
I tilt my head to the side and downward to try to get a glimpse of the front cover. I can’t.
I fetch my reading glass from my bag and pretend to read a scrap of paper I also find there and then surreptitiously look over to read the the page header of the boy’s book: The Importance of Being Ernest.
I stare at the boy in wonder.
He smiles to himself as he reads; chuckles once or twice, quietly.
He turns the page. His face lights up and he actually slaps his knee and laughs out loud. Not too loud. No one else has noticed. He looks up, face beaming with joy. He looks around as if seeking someone with whom to share what he has just experienced.
“You’re really enjoying that.” I state, obviously, smiling back.
“Oh, ya! It’s great!” He says, eagerly, in a soft, well-modulated voice. He goes on to try to explain why he’s enjoying it. He stumbles all over his words as too many thoughts tumble out. He’s not very clear and seems to want to tell me, in one breath, the entire story and how and why it has engaged him.
We chat briefly about Oscar Wilde; his blithe flippancy; his dark cynicism. The boy is too excited to get into much of a discussion, though. He longs to get back to the book.
“Are you reading this for fun or for a class?” I have to know before he’s lost in the story again.
“Oh, fun!” he answers, nodding his head enthusiastically.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw a Penguin out in public.” I murmur, mostly to myself. I watch him read until we get to his stop. He smiles and nods good-bye.
Kids these days.