Tuesday, October 19, 2004

In A Subway Train

It was so hot. Though the weather was cold and rainy, something had happened to the heating system of the train and the heat rose, stop by stop. It awakened the dormant smells in the dust in the air and in the bodies of the people, packed tight into a too small space, grabbing hard onto the hard metal bars. On every stop more people streamed in, less stagnant air left and the pressure increased. The fat man across the aisle was slowly shrinking away into a puddle of sweat, the woman sitting spreadlegged on two seats kept unwrapping another layer of her manicolored garments. Small children screamed out of heat and lack of oxygen and the press of alien bodies against them. A man in an expensive suit carefully wiped the sweat off his neck before it dyed the white collar of his shirt yellow.

The young woman was standing next to me, unable to reach more than a little finger's worth of the metal bar. She looked pale, almost translucent with the sweat running down her face. She was holding her stomach with one hand and clinging on to the bar with the other. I estimated her about seven months pregnant. Every bump of the train, every screech of its brakes seemed to signal directly into her body, and I edged away to give her more of the metal bar. But soon she needed both her hands just to avoid the bodies that were swung against her when the train took a curve, and all I could do was to cushion her against the sharp edges of the car walls.

Then someone got up from a seat and the pregnant woman started slowly to move towards the freed seat. I pushed a young teenager away to keep it free for her, but someone else got the seat in the meantime. Now the woman's old place had been lost in a rearranged sea of umbrellas, bags and newspapers, and she was left standing in the middle of the crowded corridor with nothing to hold onto. I couldn't reach her anymore, and my requests to a young man who was sitting near her, deep immersed in his newspapers, were not heard.

All the time the heat was increasing, the air turned into a hot, smelly custard and nobody left on any of the stops where yet more people tried to squeeze their bodies into the tightness. When I left, the pale woman was still standing, still supporting her stomach in grim determination, and the air was as impenetrable as before.