Heavy on the Subway

A crying, unseen baby on the train. The smell of stale alcohol. A tall man staggered into the train just before the doors closed; his sweatshirt is pulled, darkened from sweat and grime around the collar. He stands, lips dry and parted, gasping like a fish out of water, except he is deathly still. I inhale and try not to fall on the man behind me. This car stinks and I exit to the angry, invisible wailing. My bag is heavy, as is my head.

Someone pushes past everyone and runs upstairs. They hear their train and are certainly more important than the rest of us. I walk at a more sedate pace, but I’m pushed aside again. My laptop is fortunately light, but cost more than a month’s rent on my new apartment. I fear each shove and smack; I’ll put that Mac case on my credit card, rather than intensify my headache. I don’t take painkillers anymore because they make me sick.

I hope that magnesium supplement will help me sleep tonight. I’m weary and I yearn for a seat on the train. Then I hear a whisper. ‘Churros, churros, churros.’ She is behind me, a young face ringed with fatigue. It’s cold on the platform, and she’s been standing here all day. ‘Churros, churros, churros.’ She’s tiny, but not malnutritioned, she has dark circles that presently cut into a placid, bronzed face. ‘Churros, churros, churros.’ This is her American Dream, embroidered on a dirty baseball cap and across her forehead. ‘Churros, churros, churros.’ I want to buy the box and eat them all, but don’t know the Spanish for ‘I don’t eat gluten’ and I know she has her pride. Suddenly, in a fake Irish accent a well-fed young man starts singing to the accordion melody he plays, as he dances, downstage across the platform. We hear that his ill-timed lilt reflects a world he’s never visited, a time that he perhaps just researched before trying to collect the change from his careless exertions that would better serve another. He’s off key. He’s imitating a Decemberists’ song. He’s pretentious.

I drink some water, glad to no longer be moving and that the dirty whoosh of air signifies a train is on the way, I just hope it’s mine. I turn around briefly before the metallic subway car blast makes everyone hold their breath. She’s gone. ‘This is an Astoria-Ditmars boulevard bound Q local train’ bellows out via the channel of an ethereal, canned female voice. The trains sighs, and groans and door jingles overpower the accordion player too, so I simply freefall and allow myself to be swept into the  subway car amongst the crush of coats, hats, bags, beards, headphone and scarves.

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