The Black Girl in Black

The girl was black. Black skin, black skirt, black blouse and black sunglasses. The only white thing was the cord of her earphone coming from her ear and going to her black bag. I wondered about the sunglasses. We were on the train. Outside, the morning was cloudy with a touch of melancholy, which made the interior shadowish. She couldn’t possibly see properly. Maybe her eyes were sensitive to light, and the sunglasses were for protection. I would never know. What I did know was that I couldn’t see her eyes.

A minute ago, I was sitting next to the aisle, writing on my laptop. In the back of my brain it registered that the train had stopped at a station, but I was too busy with my novel. The girl just materialised in my peripheral vision. I saw her black socks and black skirt first. I looked up and saw her unsmiling, stoic face and her black glasses. The girl was just standing there without saying a word. She didn’t ask if the seat next to me was free. She didn’t ask me to move, so she could slip in.

However, I guessed what she wanted, and I stood up to give her room. Which didn’t happen as I expected. I had to stand up and step aside, next to my seat to let her pass to the window seat. But she was standing right on that spot, and she needed to step back so I could stand up. For a long moment, it seemed like she wouldn’t move. Finally she did, so I could give her the space, and she could sit down. The whole time I had the feeling that I was in her way, and I should have moved faster, and I shouldn’t have disturbed her ways.

She sat down without a word. No thank you, not a nod, no nothing. Then she sat motionless for the next thirty minutes. Which was OK for me, because I could continue writing undisturbed.

The whole thing made me thinking. What if it went down differently? 

What if…

I would write immersed in the story’s flow. I would realise that a black girl in all black stood next to me. I would look up slowly with dreamy eyes, still preoccupied with my writing, and for a while I would stare at a point in space behind her, then my eyes would return to the screen and I would continue typing. Would she ask me if she could sit? Or she would go away? Would I be the jerk, not understanding what she didn’t communicate, anyway? 


I would write immersed in the story’s flow. I would realise that a black girl in all black stood next to me. I would look up, smile at her, and ask if I can help her. Would she smile back and ask me if she could sit on the empty seat next to me? Would she bark at me: “Move!”?

What if…

I would let her sit, and I stopped writing and started chatting, and I wouldn’t shut up even if she was visibly dying of annoyance.

It could have gone many ways, and all of them would seem more normal than it actually felt. I was wondering if it had to do something with the modern teenagers not giving a fuck about social norms. Or maybe the girl was overly introvert. I would never know, because as polite as I always am, I just followed what my social brain dictated. But I still wonder how it could have gone down if I decided not to.


Variations are good

Warehouse 13

My sweetheart and I watched Warehouse 13 again. You know, the show. You haven’t seen it yet? Man, it’s a must for sci-fi fans. Anyway, that’s not the point. When we watched the last episode of the last season, I realized I had bought a Warehouse 13 e-book at some point, and it’s been sitting in my Kindle library ever since. It was time to read it!

It seems to create the atmosphere of the series well, and the characters are nicely recognizable from the show. The artifacts around which the plot of the book revolves also fit among those that are collected and put on the shelf in the TV show.

However, there is something I noticed.

It was not obvious at first. The second time I saw it as a stylistic literary device. The third time, it was looking suspicious. After the third time, it had become boring, even a little annoying.

It is that the descriptions are always the same. Always. Every single time. I mean, they describe different things, but they feel the same. The author uses the same sentences: subject, predicate, maybe place, maybe an adverb. He describes things in the same style every single time.

Here’s an example, a quote from the book:

“She continued on her way, exchanging more greetings with old friends and neighbours. Old Mrs. Lozenko was out walking her dog. Dr. Stevens, the dentist, was picking up his dry cleaning. The Brubaker twins were racing their bikes on the sidewalk. Claire and Janice, who ran the coffee shop, were pushing a baby stroller. Deputy Joe was checking the parking meters. Dave, the UPS guy, was dropping off a package at the thrift store. Crazy Vic was sleeping it off on the bench. Leena smiled at them all. She petted the dog.”

You see what I mean?


At least for a while. Then it gets annoying. I think it’s just laziness by the writer. Let’s see what would have happened if he had varied the length of the sentences!

“She continued on his way, exchanging more greetings with old friends and neighbors. The elderly Mrs. Lozenko came by, walking her dog. Leena smiled at the lady, and scratched Spykie by her ear, which was rewarded with a satisfied, joyful bark. Dr. Stevens trotted out of the dry cleaners, carrying the distinctive smell of cleaning detergents, his suit wrapped in nylon on his arm. He waved before climbing into his Buick, which was shining immaculately, as always. A suspicious noise came from behind Leena. She spun around. The Brubacker twins sped down the pavement on their bikes at a frantic pace, ringing their bells wildly to alarm passers-by. By the time Leena called after them to be careful, they were three shops away. Leena heard someone calling her by name. Claire and Janice, who ran the Coffee Time café, waved from across the street. Claire pushed a baby stroller, and Leena could see the little Audrey’s tiny pink-socked feet kicking. Cute baby. Moving on, she ran into Joe, the deputy chief of police, grunting under his thick moustache as he checked the parking meters. Leena said hello, and the reply could be taken as a good afternoon. Joe spotted Dave, the UPS guy, walking with long strides, a package under his arm, toward the thrift store. Joe followed him with narrowed eyes until he disappeared into the entrance, then returned to his parking meters and his growling. Leena’s path led past the park, as always. What was that pile on one bench? Ah, just Vic, who everyone referred to as Crazy Vic. He was probably just sleeping off his drunkenness.”

Doesn’t that make the picture more vivid? The variation in the length of sentences adds a lot to the text.

In fact, I’ve done more than play with sentence length. I have added little details, seemingly insignificant little things, which not only add colour to the scene but also help to shape the side characters.

Actually, there is a third thing: known in writing circles as “show, don’t tell”. Isn’t it more illustrative if, instead of “Dr. Stevens, the dentist, was picking up his dry cleaning.” we read, “Dr. Stevens trotted out of the dry cleaners, carrying the distinctive smell of cleaning detergents, his suit wrapped in nylon on his arm. He waved before climbing into his Buick, which was shining immaculately, as always.” Instead of telling what happens, I show the event so the reader can better visualize it.

So, I want you to promise not to bore the reader by making your sentences the same length all the time!