This short story was a journal entry I wrote based on events that really occurred.
Sitting on the train, I take out my book and start reading. It’s rush hour on Monday. I’d like to get home as quickly as possible. Reading makes the trip go by so quickly. My mind is racing with thoughts of the weekend, what happened at work, and relationships. It’s hard to focus on what I’m reading. I continue with the book, hoping to obtain a calmer state of mind.
A man tries to access the seat next to me. There is a woman positioned in front of the seat, oblivious to the man while listening to her iPod. The man says excuse me, but the woman does not move. The man explodes into an angry tirade:
You should talk those damn things out of your ear so you can hear what’s going on around you. I’m sick of people like you, blasting that music and tuning out the world. You’re in your own little world there, and you could get killed and wouldn’t know it. I tried to warn a guy he was going to get hit by a car the other day and he couldn’t hear me because he had those damn things in his ears. All that for what, music? So you should stop looking at your phone and turn the music off because your life might depend on it.
The man continues yelling for three stops, which seems like an eternity. The woman is frightened. She replies sheepishly, “I can hear you“, which sends the man into a fury.
I sigh. My thoughts again drift from my book to this conversation. In a way, the man is right. Living in this city, we try to make our own personal time by listening to music, reading, distracting ourselves from what is going on around us. But I wish he wasn’t yelling. The man starts calming down, saying he doesn’t mean to take it out on the woman, but that he is sick of people not paying attention. I start thinking of the people that don’t pay attention to me. I sigh again, knowing that it is useless to think of those people. I wish something would happen so that I could change my thoughts, some catalyst. Maybe if I keep reading, some other thoughts will come.
I glance up to see what stop I’m on, 110th Street. All of the sudden, a woman sits next to me and says, “I really need your advice”. I look up from my book and instinctively say: “Ok”. Words tumble out of her mouth:
“I don’t know what to do. There are warrants out for me. I can’t stay in one place. I’ve been moving from hotel to hotel, and I can’t afford to live. I can’t work, I can’t make money, and I can’t buy food.”
She is gasping for breath, her eyes narrow in pain. She is clutching black plastic garbage back, which I assume are some possessions she’s managed to cart around with her.
“I don’t know if I should turn myself in or not, but I don’t have any money, I don’t have a place to stay. And I . . .“
It’s difficult for me to follow the words she is saying. At first, I’m confused and think she is trying to ask me for money. But I look right into her eyes. She is young, in her mid twenties. Her skin is smooth, dark like chocolate. She has some black eyeliner around her almond shaped eyes, all of which are framed by her thick bangs.
Her words wash over me and fill me with sadness. I interrupt her and say:
“Wait, what do you mean turn yourself in? What are you asking?“
She gasps for breath again. Taking a deep inhale, she tries to calm herself down. Focusing, she explains:
“There are warrants for my arrest. And basically, I’m asking . . . if you think I should turn myself in?”
I look at her and feel like my heart is leaping out of my chest. Her face is intense with fear, regret, and sorrow. Whatever has happened she deeply regrets it. Her life has been taken from her, living in the shadows and hoping not to get caught. Tears start to well up in my eyes. What can I say to this woman? I cannot judge her for what she has done, she is already aware that she is wrong. Even though she is free, she is imprisoned in fear and remorse. I know my face has such a concerned look, and without even thinking I ask:
“Do you think it’s the right thing to do?“
She looked down, and her whole body sank down a few inches. She nodded her head and whispered yes. I respond, “Well, then you already have your answer”, almost ready to cry. I patted her on the shoulder and said “Good luck”.
The train stops at 116th Street. She picks up her black bag, and walks to the exit of the car. I watch her the whole way. As she gets off the car, I see her burst into tears. The doors close, and the train leaves the station. I can’t read the book anymore. All the thoughts I was thinking before have left my mind. Did I tell the woman what she needed to hear? She reached out to me in a time of need. I think my words were exactly what she needed to hear. But I feel so sad. I can’t stop thinking of what is happening to her . . . even now.
To purchase Reading on the Train, please visit edwardbgordon.blogspot.com
Thanks, Edward and Ingrid! :)