I was sitting in the subway train riding underground towards work when we stopped at an intermediary station and a small kid got on board. He must have been about four or five, and pushed his way with easy familiarity through the crowd to climb up onto the empty seat next to me, using my knee as a leverage point. Comfortably seated, he looked back in the direction he had come and called out, “Daddy, come here.”
His dad, a little less familiar with those around him, navigated his way over. He had a baby strapped to his chest, and sat down next to his son. The doors closed. The train pulled away into the darkness.
“Tell me a story,” said the kid, looking up at his dad who was extricating the baby from the harness.
“Do you want to hear a story about Rick and his son?”
“No, I want one about Lionman.”
“Oh, Lionman. All right. Well, do you remember where we were last time?”
“Rawr!” The kid actually roared, moving his head from side to side.
“Shh, not in the subway. We’re too close to other people, that’s rude. Do you remember where Lionman was?”
“Yeah. Lionman was in the jungle.”
“That’s right. And he was fighting the Aluminum Jaguars.”
“Who were full of chocolate!”
I was trying to read my book, but failing miserably. They were talking so naturally next to me, without even a hint of shyness or reserve that I was forced to just stare through my page and listen.
“So the aluminum jaguars were running through the tree branches, and Lionman was chasing them. And do you know what happened next?”
“These huge bees came flying along.”
“Right, with stingers. And they flew around and knocked everybody off the branches. And everybody fell to the ground.”
“Lionman was okay though.”
“Sure he was.”
“He landed on a safe spot.”
“Yep, he landed on his feet. And all the Aluminum Jaguars fell down and burst open and all the magic chocolate spilled everywhere. And then the trees started to come alive, the magic chocolate soaking into their roots, making them sway and their branches wave from side to side. And do you know what Lionman did next?”
“He went home.”
“Right. Do you remember where he lives?”
“In a magic country.”
“Do you remember the name?”
“Yes, exactly, the magical land of Switzerland. And do you remember the name of his village?”
“Yes,” said the dad, and though he kept his voice serious I could hear a smile in it. “The village of Switzerland in the magical land of Switzerland.”
I was trying hard to simply stare through my book. My face hurt from trying to not crack a smile. The train pulled up to another stop.
“Okay, this is us. Let’s go.” The dad stood up, and his son slipped off the seat next to me. And then they walked out, the kid talking animatedly up to his dad who held his hand. The doors closed, and I turned back to my book, which suddenly seemed dry and stuffy and absolutely nonmagical in comparison.