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Commuting On the Edge

Schhhhhhhickkk! Schik! Schik!

I was on the train, heading home a little early that afternoon. I was slouched in my seat reading a magazine and eating a late lunch, when that that sound-out-of-context reached my ears.

Schick, schick, schick.

It was the unmistakable sound of someone sharpening a knife.

A scene from a childrens' book, with the villain preparing to dine on the protagonist. Was a fellow passenger about to eat me up?

SCHICK, schick schick-schick-schick!

This is not right, I though. Can't be. Doesn't make any sense. I wracked my brains trying to think of some more sensible activity that might make that sound, but nothing came to mind.


My posture improved in a hurry as I tried to locate the source of this sound, but in a rattling train it wasn't easy. There weren't a lot of heads visible over the seatbacks, and none of them struck me as the knife-sharpening type.


A conductor walked up the aisle and back, and didn't seem at all perturbed. Bolstered by this I gathered myself together as the train approached my stop, and I started down toward the door. In the very last seat I found the source of the sound.

A smallish woman, mid-thirties, artsy. In one hand she held a leaf-shaped object perhaps eight inches long and two inches wide, and very, very thin. It could have been porcelain, but I believe it was pale stone. In her other hand she held the blade, a knife or rasp of hardened steel, which she was running repeatedly down the edge of the stone, honing, then examining, then scraping again as she altered its shape. I'm not at all sure what she was making (scrimshaw? A lifesize cameo of a beloved pet snake?) but I have to say it was an unusual sight for New Jersey Transit. And to think they won't let us bring nail clippers on airplanes.


Considering where you were, my guess is she was trying to make fire...

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