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It’s six o'clock on a Monday, and everything is horrible. Like most Monday’s of course.
The stifling subway air was made even more stifling by the pressure of so many detached memories of meetings over black coffee and white table cloth, so many pretentious whisperings of “earn your way up kid,” and one mind on the precipice of a breakdown disaster like an engine sputtering to a slow stop before spontaneously combusting. They all saw it coming and at the same time they didn’t.
They were all alone before it happened, all individually consumed in the little miseries of Monday and of survival. It was all arbitrarily painful, but it was always a dull and bearable pain, enough to make anyone irritable but no one particularly nasty or depressed. Everything was very, very, normal and they were all okay with that, at least until abnormal turned them all into one great collective mass of shock, and proceeded to pull them through the paper shredder.
Now we’re left as different pieces of one big puzzle, all telling the same story, but in fractions.
A stranger, who they only half-saw in the moments before as being part of the “they” but not part of the “we,” wore worn clothes and stumbled about the platform looking tipsy and insane at six o’clock in the morning.
They all scoffed and rolled their eyes, or just tried to ignore him. He mumbled to himself words they couldn’t hear and didn’t care enough to try or to ask. The train was coming.
It seemed to move too slowly, with the pinpricks of glaring headlights growing ever so gradually bigger and the rumbling of the tracks caught in a slow crescendo. They were all quiet waiting for the train, it was like waiting for a concert to start, there was a moment of silence before blaring noise.
And then everything moved too quickly.
The stranger, who was only half there that morning, gave a final loud yell of words they didn’t catch over the sound of the subway and the wax-dust of ignorance, before diving head first onto the tracks.
There was the concert. It was in the sound of tearing and grinding and breaking, and, for a brief moment, screaming. They were frozen, transfixed in remembering every little noise and movement. It was like the last song played at a wedding and at a funeral, it meant a new union and a new grave.
He died, splattered on the tracks in flecks of red and raw pink. He was ground into the dirt like nothing. He was gone. We, who had learned to not care too much when we saw the flickering pictures of emaciated african children on the TV screen, cared, in that moment, for the stranger- the man, who had died before us.
The panic came like applause.
The two young children of a woman dressed all in orange began to cry as she fell down, paralyzed. A business man dropped his phone and suitcase but said nothing. An old woman screamed and clung to her husband. A musician carrying a guitar case fainted. A young woman threw up into her handbag. A student immediately got out his phone and dialed 911.
We were all terrified, and we were all together, and we were all so very, very, real.
That day in the subway, strangers cried into each other’s jackets and called their families to say “I’m sorry.” We learned that others could cry, and that others had families, and that others had lives that could be lost in mere moments. No one was really a stranger anymore.
Because we were all caught in the same regret of not having listened to the, young, troubled man’s last words.