It is super hot, humid. Sweat is running down my back like a brook. I am waiting. The A train is mine. I am on the east side of the Forty-Second Street platform for the southbound A train. People are running, late people walk slowly, lost people are walking purposefully.
A woman pushes a rattling, clanking cart. She is dirty, a wrinkled old woman. She bumps to a stop next to me. She jingles a cup at me. She wants money. I have none. She and her cart continue on. I feel sadness. She is poor. How did she become poor? How did she get the cart on the platform? Where does she live? Why do I not have change for her? Where is she going? I don’t ask. A train stops, it is not mine.
There is a band playing, a one-man, four-piece band. His face is small and thin, his clothes are clean. He is joyful, he is playing joyful songs. The music man is tempting us to dance with joyful music. I agree to dance. How come he is happy? His bucket has my money. Why did I give him my change? I feel a breeze, a train is coming, but alas it’s not mine.
Some people are standing, waiting. Some are short, some are poor, some people are smiling. They are rich with happiness. Some are talking to one another. Some are talking to themselves. Some turn their heads and they are no longer talking to themselves, using Bluetooth. I see lights; a train comes soaring around the curve. It is still not my mine.
By now where is this train? I look down the track. No train. I look across the platform, I see no train. I look at the platform sign, I am on the wrong side. Oooooooooooppppppppppppsssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have to cross over, the rumbles sound in my ear. I look down the track. It is my train after all. I was on the wrong side.
I board. I find a seat by the window, I sit. Some people are old. More people are young adults. Some are parents. Some stare off into space. Others read books, Kindles, magazines, newspapers. I thought the Kindle was winning. Some are sleeping. Earbuds’ music, blaring, reaches my ears. I wonder if their ears are going deaf. There sits a father with his son, squabbling. A mother rests tiredly, a howling baby. Her arms bounce the baby. It does not work.
The doors open at the Penn Station stop. A group of well-muscled men enter. They ask people to step back. The train moves forward, the boom box starts blasting beats in a danceable rhythm. Hip-hop dance moves fire up. Stiff as a board the first fellow spins on his hands. The next man does five back flips, touching no one. A dancer spins on a pole, missing people by inches, stunning. Acrobat number three, hanging onto a pole, does a summersault in midair. The men do a finale. People clap and whoop in approval. They pack up their boom box. With hats extended, they ask for donations. I wish I had money, sadly, my money is at Forty-Second Street. I let them pass.
Twenty-Third Street arrives. The man and his son debark, squabbling stopped. The baby stops howling. More people press on to the train. There is a man on the platform hawking God. Screaming, he tells me, “You are a grave sinner. Your soul is going to hell.” Bible quotes fly out from his mouth, like an expert. I feel sad. I see his hat upside down by his feet, I see his hat, filled with dollars. Since I am going to hell I am glad I am penniless. The doors close, the train starts with a clank.
Fourteenth Street arrives. A man gets off, shopping bag in tow. A few people enter. A group of boys carry a box of candy. “One dollar each!” hollers a boy. “Help support our soccer team!” I am still broke. They need money not for soccer. Their clothes are tattered, their faces tired. I don’t think they have a soccer team. I wonder where they got the candy. Where are their parents? I just nod at them.
The connecting stop is Fourth Street. The baby sleeps in its mothers arms. Crowds switch, the baby still sleeps. Someone sits next to me. We look away. The train leaves. The train gently rocks around curves. My seat mate and I bump gently, in silence. This crowd is mostly workers headed home, silent. At the window I stare. My reflection stares back. My face says tired. Sniffles, sneezes, and coughs break the silence. I wish the baby would cry. The train slows for Spring Street Station.
The lady and child depart. I will miss them. The crowd thins. From the station, the train eases. A woman has no bags, staggering, she makes her way forward, talking, she is making no sense. Closer, she moves. “Here’s one,” she says. Stepping closer, “You’re a fine boy.” Closer still, “You have been adopted, by a woman.” She is right. How does she know? Eerie? “You are not going to look at me,” she challenges, sticking a finger in my face. I study it. The fingernail is manicured into a fine point. Bizarre. Her fingernails are clean. “Look up,” she demands. I don’t. My eyes she cannot see. My soul, she wants to read. I refuse. Her challenge I win. With relief, I sigh.
The train arrives at Canal Street, this is my stop. The soul-steeling woman gets off. I stay on, letting her go. I choose to go one stop more, to get away. I will come back on the next train. Getting home late is safer. I like my neighborhood. Is she in my building? I shiver. I hope not.
The train leaves the station, I can’t see her. I breathe deeply. My seat mate tells me, “You did well, good job. She wanted something from you.”
“I think it was my soul,” I say.
Quietly, he says, “I think you’re right.” Fear crawls up my spine. As I exit at the next stop, the spell breaks. I sigh. Tomorrow will be another day on the subway. I’m fine.