The people stood in the cold underground waiting for the late night subway that only comes every half hour. They are all strangers. He warms them with the sound waves he produces with his guitar. One by one they begin to turn around as the waves wash over and the tide slowly caresses them in. The people gather in a semi circle around him, inching closer to really feel the waves, each now a part of the collective moment. They started out all in their own mental worlds, now they have expanded and turned in and they are all sharing the same world. Some sing the words to the song on the guitar. Others bob their heads, or bounce along with the beat. Everyone claps earnestly when the song ends, and happily show their appreciation by filling his guitar case with love. He did this. He brought people together in a city that idealizes lone wolves. He created this world of shared collective joy.
She shrinks herself in order to fit in between the two men sitting on each end of the subway bench. She folds herself expertly. You could almost fit two of her in the one space while each man is obliviously spreading themselves out. They don’t ever have to think about the space that they occupy, while for this woman, she is always making herself smaller in order to accommodate everyone else. She is versatile; she knows when to puff herself up and when to shrink. The two men on either side of her, with their legs spread wide and their elbows pointed out, only know how to be the size that they are. They haven’t had to learn how to morph themselves to fit into a space. They have been told to make the space fit around them. They haven’t been told to sit like a “lady” or had to constantly be aware of every male presence and how to escape a space should one of those males become a threat. The woman sits in this space constantly alert while the two men blissfully and naively can afford to tune out the world.
I hate when you go to England.
It takes so long for you to come back to me.
Your mum and dad must be excited though.
Yeah, they are.
It will be nice to see them.
I’m sorry, I know what my being gone does to you. Let’s go out tomorrow night before I leave.
I can’t, I have a deadline on Tuesday and I need to be there most of Monday to get it done.
Another night though.
(please hurry back to me)
She stands in front of you, just to your right, after sticking her arm in the closing subway doors and jumping into the train exclaiming “I really have to get to work.” You noticed her when she first came on. She is dressed in all black, taking off her sunglasses and pushing them onto the top of her head. She pulls her long auburn hair to one side as she starts to take off her coat. As other people get on and off at passing stops, she slowly is jostled to standing in front of you, just to your right. She shifts her weight into her left hip, bending her left knee in as she reaches up to hold the above head bar with her right hand. She is fully elongated in skin tight black cotton. She is beautiful. You look down at her shoes, black sneakered platform shoes. Your eyes trail up her legs, caught by her ass for a brief moment, then fix on the bobby pin clipped to the outside of her jeans pocket. You see the hem of a tank top under her sweater. You notice smudges on her sweater just above its hem. You see the tiny hole at the end of her sleeve. Your eyes continue up and notice the pucker of of a necklace just between her breasts. You see how the golden ends of her hair fade and morph into a light brown. You see the shimmer of lip gloss on her lips. You look up even more and she meets your eyes, and you hold contact for a blistering second. She is a real person, not a perfect image you could never hope to reach out to. She has flaws, she is reachable. Don’t elevate her on a pedestal and worship her meaninglessly, she is worth so much more than that. She is a collection of memories and experiences, all making her so much more than you could ever know.
The woman sat on the bench, two pages from the New York Times open on her lap. A few strands of grey hair fell out of the low ponytail, framing her tan, aged face. She wears a black leather fanny pack around her waist. She is mostly uninteresting. Most people walk by her without registering her presence. She continues to read her newspaper. She turns the page over and she lets out a barely audible gasp and freezes briefly. She holds the newspaper closer to her face in order to better absorb the article. She traces the faces of the people in the picture just above the article. She traces the faces of the people in the picture just above the article, sets the paper down on her lap and stares blankly ahead, lost in her thoughts. She picks up the corner and starts to tear out the article. The edges are rough, parts of other articles being torn into in order to free this one. She gets it out, hold it up, and stares at it, like it’s her most prized possession. She gently folds the article and places it in her coat pocket. She continues to read the newspaper, now with a gap.
The woman sits in the blue subway bench. She is wearing a red winter cap and a kind, loving smile. This smile is genuine. It’s not fake or rehearsed or photogenic, the smiles that everyone else gives out of obligation. No, she means her smiles. They have purpose. She is truly pleased when a little boy sits on her right with his parents. He reminds her of her grandson. In her left sits a man. They are strangers. He is classy and very uptown New York. He wears a big white and tan fur coat. His hair is curly, but short and gelled close to his head in a very fashionable way. He pulls his hand out of his coat pocket and several folded papers fall onto the floor. The woman immediately reaches down to help him collect them. The man gives that obligatory thanks and smile. The woman looks into his eyes and gives her genuine smile. The man can see the light in her eyes, and that she truly means it. Her light spreads to him and his smile changes, ever so slightly. He gets off at the next stop, still thinking about the rare genuine woman.
The man sits on the seat inside the subway car. His fingers are laced together as he fiddles with a scrunched up napkin in his palms, swirling his thumbs around and around the brown tattered napkin, sporadically. He wears a heavy black coat that puffs out in the front as he sits. Around his neck is an old, tattered, dirty white scarf. One end is looped around his neck and sticking out onto his shoulder. The other end hangs down to his waist. Over his head he pulls the hood of a blue hoodie, which is under his black coat, hiding his glasses and nose. The top of the hood points up, like a gnome hat. All anyone can see sticking out of the shadows of this hood is a scruffy grey mustache, weathered cheeks, and a mouth that in its resting position is the perfect frown. His hands are wrinkled and weathered, but strong,. He works hard. He keeps to himself. But when his eyes peek out from under the hood, they are kind and gentle, partially hidden behind the glare on his glasses. The subway car fills up more and more at each stop, and the man just sits, swirls his napkin, and silently observes the chaos around him.
The man paces on the other side of the subway tracks just before entering the turn-still. His face is confused. He jogs to the map on his right. He looks across the tracks. He looks up at the sign. He grabs the gate, pushing his face through the bars, and yells at the group of four
DOES THAT TRAIN GO TO MANHATTAN?
One of the four, in his black peacoat because he wanted to wear it despite it not yet being quite cold enough for it, yells back
YEAH MAN, IT DOES.
The man on the other side, in a large tan coat that goes down to his knees, gives an excited whoop.
GREAT, I’LL BE RIGHT OVER
He races up the stairs behind him hollering
His voice is heard from below ground as he races across the street above. Then there are several short loud gasps, but he does not appear at the bottom of the steps. The four exchange bemused glances and jokes. The man in the tan coat jumps out from the stairwell, races through the turn-still, and joins the group of four. He does a GOAL stance and exclaims
YEAH! I MADE IT! HIGH FIVES ALL AROUND!
He high fives the group, and several other weary watchers. HE stands by the tracks. Waiting. The train does not come. Waiting. Suddenly his entire night has been futile.
The subway car came to a jolting stop. The lady lost her grasp on the bar and crashed into him. She apologized and he just smiled. He was wearing a red sports jacket with a black t-shirt underneath. It had some kind of logo or graphic on it. He had grey sweatpants, but the kind that was tight at the ankles. He had short, spikey, dirty blonde hair. He carried a red duffle bag and spoke on the phone in Russian. The train came to a jolting stop. She fell into him and apologized. The power in the subway car went out. A voice came over the speaker. There was a fire on the track. He looked at his phone then made a phone call. He is a personal trainer. He is going to be late for his 11 o’clock appointment. There is something going on with the train. He speaks with a slight accent. If one didn’t know the difference, one would think he was German. He put the phone back in his pocket. He continued to hold onto the bar overhead. Time passed. When the subway stopped at the next and last stop to go out of commission, he disappeared into the crowd.
On the subway was a boy, and he is called a boy because he is immature and naive and a bit unknowingly privileged. He sat on the bench in his blue windbreaker, black pants, black loafers, and dark grey tweed sweater. He held a covered book in his lap. The girl, a stranger, with a normal sounding American sounding voice, somewhat stingy and unkempt hair, and stark white Reeboks, strikes up conversation about the boys book. He responds and she tells him that’s racist and he says its not. They get into more conversation. She is from Brazil. South East. The boy insists it’s the south and continues to show on the subway map behind him how southeast is still the south. She argues that the south east is its own region different from just the south. He continues to steam roll her with his “facts.” He is from Long Island. He looks like he is from Long Island. The girl is annoyed and has obviously come to the conclusion that he thinks he knows everything and she doesn’t want anything to do with him. She becomes resigned and an awkward silence falls. He tries to remedy it by doodling on a scrap piece of paper, then laughing at how he messed it up. She gets off at the next stop without looking back.