There is a man on the back of the train.
He’s in a wheelchair, with a stump of a leg and a harmonica in one hand, a hat in the other. He’s talking to you, to all of you on the 7 Train to Times Square-42st at 6:37pm when the sky is a painting, maybe a Renoir impressionism one, with strokes of pinks and purples that gently melt into a setting orange sun that burns so bright it blinds you for a second or two. He’s talking about the war from that long time ago when the color TV was a luxury and children ate Pixy StiX. He’s telling you about the shivers he gets at night and the flashes that sneak up behind him when he’s not looking, like smoke that wraps itself around him, choking, smoldering him until he blinks and suddenly he can breathe again.
You put your music up a little louder, tapping your feet to slow jazz or vulgar rap or the impossibly perfect vocals of a pop star; or maybe you’ve forgotten your iPod at home today so you stare out the window at the dusty city you live in, the one that’s so loud because it’s afraid of silence, afraid that if it’s quiet the flashes might sneak up on it too. The train is turning now on Queens Borough Plaza and the man is pushing his wheel chair a little further down the train, still talking; now about his dead wife, and how just a dollar would help a lot. Come on. You business men with your Armani suits and Palm Pilots can spare a dollar, right?
One of those college kids, you know, the hipster ones that major in film at NYU and smoke weed on campus, pretending to be smarter and more sophisticated, more cultured than you, that type of college kid, he throws a couple of dollars into the man’s hat. The man gives the boy a hushed ‘thank you’ and you could swear he was a little embarrassed. Too bad. Beggars can’t be choosers.
He’s coming near you now and you’re getting a bit nervous because oh, you see these people every time you take the train, each with their own sob story, their own tragedy and it bothers you that you can’t even write this man off as a fake like some of the others, because this man doesn’t have a leg and this man has this look in his eye like he’s seen too many corpses and he knows that it’d be easier to become one himself. You would spare a dollar or two, but you don’t even have any change and well, it’s so much work to reach into your bag.
You stare out the window or turn up your music a little bit higher while the man talks and talks and talks, the squeaks of his wheelchair almost hidden by the sounds of the underground, his voice becoming white noise in the background while you and the thirty others in the train become an almost ridiculous portrait of New York.
It’s okay that you’re ignoring the man. He’s used to it.
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