Underground

Step aside, please.

Humanity pours out of an R-142A subway car, the downtown 6 at rush hour. She stands to the side, feeling the push of humans behind her, all waiting to get home, get to drinks, get to friends and loved ones.

Once the last person steps out of the car, the flow reverses and the platform empties into the train. Straphangers grab a pole or a seat (unlikely, at this hour), or hang in limbo, letting their knees and hips absorb the jolts and twists of the train as it snakes under Manhattan.

She’s one of those, preferring to let her body absorb the tilt and jolt and swing of the train as it makes its way under the island. And so she stands, silent, carefully averting her eyes as seasoned New Yorkers (which she is not) know to do. She spends a lot of time looking at subway ads, eyes skimming the tops of heads, staring but not really seeing.

Sometimes, she’ll catch someone’s eye. She’ll look at him or her, another body on another train in a city of 8 million people, and they’ll share a moment. Three feet away, sharing different lives and experiences, they’ll know that in this moment, they are the same. In this packed car, they are two out of 90, and 90 out of 400 on the train, one train on one line in a whole subway system. All under the feet of millions of other people.

She’s small down here. She’s in another world. It’s black outside the windows, save for the flash-bang of a few blue lights as they pass. She tries to stare out the window, to see closed stations or graffiti or gangways and doors as they coast by, but all she can see is her reflection. Her reflection looks at her, probing, wondering what she’s thinking and why she’s here. Sharing a moment.

Then, her train glides into a wider portion of the tunnel, and the paths of her train and another come together. Now she’s looking beyond herself, staring into the face of another man on another train, another 1 out of 8 million. They exist together for a few beats, their windows aligned for five, four, three, two, one and then the trains pull apart and the black closes in. She wonders what he was thinking in that moment.

The train slows, heaves, shudders to a halt. For a moment, the electricity clicks off and the train is completely silent. She’s used to these moments, when the lights flick off and the train sighs to a stop as the systems reset. She could disappear in these moments, when it’s completely silent save for the shuffle of newspaper or the cough of someone across the train. It’s limbo, a moment completely disconnected from the world above and from the thoughts in her head.

Just when she starts to think too much, the train breathes and shudders and moves out again, moving 400 lives forward into the evening, one moment to the next. Tiled walls slide past the windows and the platform seethes as humans move towards the train. She steps towards the door, sending a silent farewell to the people she’ll never see again. Humans, each with their own agendas, sadnesses, joys, lovers, friends, troubles.

The doors slide open with a clack.

Step aside, please.

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