I know I’m underground, but the lighting is just perfect, like I’m between two colors of a rainbow. I climb up the stairs perfectly in order—someone behind me, someone in front of me. The signs are clear: letters and numbers and arrows. I have good news: I have my golden ticket, and I can go anywhere. And I patter down the steps. It looked like a maze once, now it just amazes me. I see you. You nod. You know me. I’m a regular just like you. You stop playing the guitar. Hello. Hello.
“Is that a new song?”
“No, it is very old.”
I feel as though every conversation we have is hitting one brick wall after another after each exchange. I don’t know what to do with it, but I keep asking questions and keep getting answers that don’t fit. And I love it. I don’t know if you do.
The train comes. Rush! Wind! Chill! My hood flies off of my head and my hair jumps off of my shoulders. “The F Train is here!” my strands hiss. I tighten my fingers around my dinner that is getting colder by the second in a brown paper bag. I don’t want to lose what I have worked for to the rush of the F.
“I’ll see you next time, I suppose,” you say.
“Goodbye!” I reply and jump into the train. Another brick wall with you.
And then the colors change. I’m in a tube of gray and yet I feel like I’m riding on a rainbow. And then I see your hair blue. And pink. And how much did you spend on that piercing hanging from your forehead?
And I see another you. You’re sleeping. Your socks have holes. I know this because your shoes have holes. Your jeans have holes. Your pants underneath have holes. And the shorts under the pants have holes as well. Your layers don’t cover up your skin. I can’t tell if your skin is black or white or yellow. Racism is not what is killing you, it is the freezing cold. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Sleep well on your $2.50 subway dream.
The doors open up. Like ants we follow the tunnels up the stairs. The lights glow blue and then orange. A voice, like God! calls through no speakers that I can see. “The L Train does not run through Union Square and 8th Ave. Take the M14 bus to make it to 6 & 8th Ave.” Well of course it does! I say to the Subway God—the voice of the robot woman who tells me that I must now take the M14 bus. Good thing I don’t wear head phones—good thing I listen for important announcements from the Subway God. I wish God made announcements on speakers to us humans every now and then: “A tornado will be ripping apart your town in six hours. Please take the M14 to avoid this terrible disaster that I will be creating just because. P. S. Jimmy, just ask the girl out already.”
And then I see you again. You’re different yet again. This time a round Filipino man is carrying you up the stairs to the outside world—to the outside skin of New York where the snow falls and the taxis honk. And your eyes are rolling. And for some reason you make my head turn. What is going on? And then you make me knees week. Not you, but your blood. The gash in the temple of your head makes me taste my cheap $2 bagel. Are you okay?
“No, he’s not okay,” a loud fat woman answers me and a person she is speaking with on the phone with. “He’s awake, but he’s not responding. He slipped and fell down the steps to the subway. He’s bleeding. A lot. Allen and 1st. He’s middle-aged. I don’t know. Looks like some construction worker. We don’t know what to do. Hurry.”
I look. The filipino man is now trying to keep you sitting up. Your legs are straggling along the ground. A lady is trying to straighten your legs. After far too long, she succeeds. You don’t look like a rag doll anymore. I forget that our bodies are so lifeless and unfamiliar when we are absent from them. Your coat is now stained burgundy with your own blood. I wonder if you slipped on ice or if you were so tired that you just missed the step by one tired inch and that’s how you fell. I want to help, but I don’t know what to do. There are enough people hovering over you. I feel guilty to leave. I stay another five minutes to make sure you are okay. After five minutes, I’m still not sure if you are okay. Your eyes haven’t closed. You keep looking to your left… I feel guilty now because I am not helping—I just seem to be speculating. I don’t want to be a spectator. I am not helping. I leave.
M14, take me where I need to go.
And I wait at the bus stop. The cover over my head that has a big ad of some movie on the side panel does absolutely nothing to shield me or you from the weather, but it keeps us out of the way of pedestrians who are late for work or a date perhaps. I look at you. You are sitting down on the bench underneath the plastic cover. You are dirty. You are balding. You are not even aware that I am there. Your head is hovered over a clear plastic bowl of pasta that you are eating with your blackened fingers. You look like an animal. I peek. You do not notice me. I stare openly. Aren’t your fingers cold? Maybe the pasta warms them. Who gave you the pasta? Well, I will not give you my dinner. But I will give you this. I reach into my brown paper bag and take out my plastic fork.
“Do you want it?” I depend more on my gesture than my words—my faith in you understanding me is not there. I feel like we are from different worlds at the same bus stop, so maybe we speak different languages.
“Oh! Thank you. I really do appreciate it.” The way you articulate yourself surprises me. I feel guilty. I nod. You’re from my world. You wipe your fingers on your blanket of a coat. I reach into my brown paper bag and pull out napkins.
“Oh. Really. I do appreciate it.”
You stand up and eat the pasta with the fork and wipe your mouth with the napkin. You turn to me and lift the bowl ever so slightly in thanks. I nod. And then you walk off. I suppose you weren’t going to take the bus after all. Maybe the bus stop cover did keep you a little warmer—I just didn’t feel the difference. The M14 arrives. I step on and insist that the transfer is free because of the contraction on the L when the driver asks me to swipe my golden ticket. The driver grunts in agreement, OK FINE. The bus roars and we begin—at a snail’s pace thanks to traffic—on our way. I look out the window. We pass you eating your noodles with my fork. You look like any man eating lunch in New York. You look like a man from my world. I look down at my brown paper bag that carries a small box that contains chicken and rice inside. I am so hungry. I can’t wait to eat it. I close the bag and roll it up so the food can retain what heat it has left.
I start to cry.