I waddle onto the Metro, looking like the blimp that swallowed Cleveland, my eyes searching hungrily for a seat. Legs more spry than mine race to claim the few empties, so I stand there stranded -- heavy, as they say, with child -- varicose veins throbbing and back crying "No Way Jose."
"You can have my seat if you like," offers a smiling young woman, standing like me, as the train pulls out of Dupont Circle. I laugh wryly at her joke and say, "Thanks," hoping that one of the sitters around us will catch the thinly veiled despair in my voice. But no one looks up. Everyone is reading newspapers and magazines or studying the fascinating patterns in Metro's carpet.
I grab a pole and let my huge belly nearly graze a man seated near me, a navy-suited fellow who looks about 35. He doesn't seem to notice. To my right, a youngish man in a suit and hat stares ahead; around me dozens of able-bodied women and men each cling to their own seats as if planted there by divine right. Everyone looks hypnotized.
"Well, Mom," I think to myself, "why not ask one of these nice people to offer you a seat and let them earn a few brownie points toward Heaven?"
But I can't bring myself to do it.
False pride? you ask. Fear of rejection? Hope that at the next stop a seat will emerge without undue fuss?
All of the above, I suppose. But just the same, I begin to eye the floor space by the door the way a stray cat prepares to pounce on a saucer of milk. Fortunately I'm wearing stretch jeans and the sort of modified parachute that maternity stores sell as a blouse, so I could sprawl on the floor and still maintain a shred of dignity.
"Woodley Park, doors open on your left," rasps the conductor.
I look around hopefully. No one exits. One or two people enter. My legs, which the doctor has just ordered me to keep propped as much as possible, begin to give way. They march, almost on their own accord, to the floor space. As the train chugs toward Cleveland Park, I lean against the wall and slide -- as delicately as a human beach ball can -- to the floor. My swollen body sighs with relief as I try to arrange myself as gracefully as possible under the circumstances.
Suddenly I feel a hand on my elbow. It is Mr. Navy Suit, urging, begging me to please, please take his seat.
"No thanks," I sniff, partly from sour grapes and partly because it is too much effort to move.
"No, please, please," he insists urgently, tugging on my arm. I rise to my feet with a grunt of effort that would do a fullback proud.
"Thank you," I say with as much dignity as I can muster. I walk over, plop down in his seat and stare at my hands, unwilling to take out my book and read as any mere mortal might. Now that I've made a scene, I feel obliged to look regally tired and pained.
From the corner of my eye I can see Mr. Navy Suit standing, holding a pole. He gets a seat at the next stop. Two more stops and I'm off, waddling into the sunset.
I know men claim that the women's movement has wreaked havoc with the rules of courtesy. I've heard men say that they won't open doors for women for fear of being labeled a sexist pig or worse. But what about the women on the train who could have special empathy with my plight? Are the elderly and the handicapped similarly ignored by men and women alike? In my nonpregnant state I have probably been just as blind.
We all know that the age of chivalry is long gone, replaced, some say, by the New Narcissism of the Me Generation. But what about common courtesy, the good manners that form the backbone of character?
"Manners," said Lord Byron, "make the man." And there is nothing like suffering the effects of others' bad manners to make you vow to improve your own. Small kindnesses may earn nothing more than a smile of gratitude or a prayer of thanks. But in the currency of metropolitan living, good will from strangers is pure gold.
Carol Krucoff is a Washington Post editor on leave to write a novel.