The station is quiet. Straggling men circle the concourse, muttering about weather and god. I can smell them as they pass. Their whispers echo through the empty halls. The floors are wet with sludge tracked in from the sidewalk. Two station attendants drag mops over the dirty floor, whistling, sneaking glances at a female security guard.
A teenager occupies the space next to me on the iron bench. His face is cloaked protection of a hood. Rolling papers and weed rest on his lap. The weed’s aromatic, much like incense, high quality and hydroponic, grown indoor. Next to the bag of weed lies an open tin foil package of cocaine. He dumps the weed into the rolling papers. Now he sprinkles the cocaine atop the weed, creating a pleasant contrast between the white cocaine, and the fluorescent green. It’s like a snowfall in spring, watching the flakes float onto a budding lawn. I remember doing that at his age. Rolling joints tainted with coke. The recollections are lucid. There were the dilated pupils, engorged in my eyeballs. My lips split red from dehydration. They bled when I smiled. This was a long time ago. I was different then.
The revolving doors leading into the concourse spin, and with each revolution, the cold travels inward from the street.
Wind blows against my face. I notice a man thin enough to be dead picking scabs from his legs and eating them. He sits on the bench, sockless; his feet are marbled blue and purple. They look as if they’ve been painted that way. Very captivating. Thank god for boredom, without it, I’d never notice the simple beauties. The station attracts outcasts at this hour. Fitting that I’d be here to share in their alienation.
I feel alive.
A deadened voice issues from the speakers.
“Train westbound to Clarkson running approximately 45 minutes late”
Another three quarters of an hour to spend here. No way out for now. I fear that if I were to go for a walk, I would be mugged, or even worse, miss my train and have to spend the night. Public transit is inhibiting. Humiliating.
I feel like a child waiting for his mother to pick him up after school. She arrives late, I wait for an apology that never comes.
Now how will I kill time constructively?
This is a problem. I’m likely to do something dangerous when presented with periods of unregimented time.
I stand with my back to the wall when waiting for the subway. Fearful that If I were to meander near the tracks, an unseen force would compel me to jump in front of the oncoming train.
There’s an arcade in the corner of the concourse.
Arcades are ominous places. Much like casinos for the adolescent. Little caves blotted across the city, open 24 hours so the pimps can sell their fares to drunk college kids that stopped in for a go at “dance, dance revolution”. And then of course there are the attendants. Criminal types, aspiring carnival workers, underachieving even for their demographic. They issue tokens for the machines to the children while disapprovingly eying them over. I never feel safe in an arcade. In fact, a child was knifed to death in the one on my block two weeks ago. Stabbed in the back while playing air hockey.
Whenever I’m alone for more than an hour, my mind begins to dance away from the present.
I’ve always found the station overwhelming.
The ceilings are vaulted. They make me feel tiny and unseen. Shadows inhabit the hallways. Even in the daytime the station is dark. So many people have rushed through down these corridors. Many of them long dead.
I will be stuck in this station forever.
Every time I reached into my wallet to buy drugs, I was met with the face of my son in Santa’s lap. His eyes gleaming at me from the photograph, as if to say, “why?”
I walk into the bathroom, wrenching my shirt collar up above my nose as I pull open the door. The tiled floors are sticky with urine. It smells fermented. An empty can of beer crushes underfoot as I sidle up to a urinal. I notice a man approach the urinal to my immediate left and unzip his pants. Strange that he would choose this one, as there a 6 to either side of me. I try to dismiss it. But I notice him glancing towards my crotch. Something about this excites me so I ignore him. He empties his bladder fast and leaves the bathroom. The walls of the bathroom are vandalized. All the stall doors are open, as if to showcase the dirty toilets. I take a moment of observe the ugliness of the place before leaving.
I remember waiting in the station as child. My mother gripped my hand determinedly, scolding me if I were to wander a foot from her side. She told me children were abducted here, taken back into the bathrooms and molested. I didn’t know the meaning of that word, molested. But it sounded menacing.
How does one divorce fear from reality?
Why can’t I combat paranoia when I’m alone?
“Attention westbound passengers to Clarkson, your train will be arriving in approximately 25 minutes, on track 3”
The track is barren. All that can be heard are sign poles bending in the wind. I’m alone on the platform, and I find this comforting. No one can hear me think aloud, or judge the way I look, or attempt small talk. This is perfect, meditative, I feel confident. There is nothing more comforting than the idea of absolute isolation. It is only through solitude that I’ve grown accepting of my sicknesses. For a moment I feel liberated.
A group of kids charges up the stairs. My first thought is to hurt them, to repel them by means of violence. Why did they come? They smell of liquor, cheap vodka, as if they’ve just bathed in rubbing alcohol. I walk away, 30 feet down the track, and move into a shelter.
Time is my enemy. It is an adversary. I’ve been pitted against time, floating along my lifeline towards a final day, but never knowing when that final day will come. It’s a cruel truth we all have to live with, the ambiguity of “fate”.
I can still hear the kids. One of them bellows something about whores, about how he hates women. Liquor breeds misogyny. I’ve watched it happen hundreds of times, with my friends, and myself, with my family.
The train pulls into the station. Grinding shrilly along the tracks like a blade along the sidewalk. The doors open, passengers disembark and walk past me, eyes fixed on the ground as if they’re looking for something they just dropped.
The doors chime and close. And I watch the train travel westward towards my home. I have found something in the station, what it is I don’t know. But I don’t feel ready to leave just yet.