The Voices


April 1, 2005







He stands on the platform with all the others, lost in his own world as they are in theirs. He sees but he really does not see and he hears but he really does not hear. He is just another piece of cargo to be loaded onto the next subway train. 


Time goes by but he is not really aware of it. The train is the only clock that matters and it will come when it comes.


He feels the rush of air come down the tunnel and he steps forward towards the track to make sure he can get on, find a space.


The train pulls into the station and he walks on. He does a quick scan of the seats, none available, never are, and he walks to one end of the car and grabs a handrail to brace himself against the erratic movements of the train once it begins to move again.


He is there, in the car, but not really. This is nothing more than a step up a flight of stairs, a thing to be done before other things can be done and nothing more. The train pulls out of the station and begins to accelerate down the tunnel and then it is completely dark out the windows of the car except for the occasion train signal or tunnel light. He watches the lights and signals go by but takes no interest.


His slender frame rocks back and forth with the rhythm of the car. He is no more than a large wooden crate stamped for delivery to “Union Square” or “Central Park West” or some other destination. Then the lights in the car flicker once and then again and then go out completely and the train begins to slow to a stop and for the first time since he entered the subway, he actually has a thought. “Power failure. Oh, great.”


After a moment or two, the emergency lights in the car come on and once again he resumes his trance of staring out the window. “It will not be long,” he thinks, “Never is.”  But as he stares lost in his trance of no thoughts, his eyes begin to register that the emergency lights are dimming and then go out completely. For a few moments there is nothing but silence, but then the voices begin. “Mommy, I am scared!” No response. “Come on. I have a meeting I just have to be to in 5 minutes. Why today?”


Then voices ring out all over the car and in his mind, he begins to imagine what the voices look like. “My boss is not going to be happy, I can tell you!” A middle aged secretary wearing tennis shoes she will change out of at work. “Got a client waiting!” A mid to late 20’s businessman in a nice conservative suite and tie still trying to make it so he does not have to ride the subway, no doubt, carrying a leather satchel. Again, “Mommy, I am scared!” and then a “Shut up you punk ass kid!” from the far end of the car. “We ought just take us some easy ass money with all these lights out.” A black teen at the far end of the car. Voices. Just voices in the dark but he sees them now in his mind and begins to think about their lives, who they might be. “What is taking so long?” A teenage girl with some anxiety in her voice: a college student perhaps.


He thinks about speaking up and assuring everyone that it will be ok and that the power will be back on pretty soon but then decides that no one put him in charge and wonders what his voice would sound like, in the darkness, to the others in the car?


“Shit!” A middle aged woman. “Guess the darkness provides some level of anonymity,” he thinks. “I got me a doctor appointment and I needs to get there. Can we sue the subway system for this? An older man, perhaps even elderly.

The lights flicker on for a second and then off again. A good sign. Perhaps just a moment or two more. 


In the darkness he can hear, feel, the breathing of all on board the car and their closeness is amazing and disturbing at the same time. He has never noticed the closeness of all the others on the train before and now, they all have voices, are people, with directions, needs, frustrations. The lights of the car snap on and this time, a voice over an intercom informs that the power has been restored and the train will now begin running again and so it does.


Once more he stares out the window of the car but cannot seem to hold his mindless trance. He turns to look inside the car and find the people behind the voices he has heard. Easy to find the black teenage boy with his idle threats of robbery. Plenty of businessmen in suits and satchels so he not sure which one was the complainer. The child who was sacred is easy to spot but he wonders why his mother or nanny did not comfort me. But as he looks at each, either sitting or standing, he loses sight of what he has been trying to do, match voices to actual faces, bodies and gets lost in the people he sees before him. The Hispanic couple sitting side by side, he thin from obvious daily manual labor and she much too heavy from obvious daily cooking and eating most of it. The elderly gray haired lady with way too much makeup and cheap jewelry and the shopping bags from Bloomingdales. The college or high school student girl, arms and legs all pulled in taught on herself, open textbook on her lap. Obviously not comfortable so close to those sitting beside her. “She the one of the voices?” he wonders.  The tourist couple, multiple photo cameras and bags, standing in the middle of the car looking lost and confused, standing close to each other for comfort and safety. Those he cannot see, hidden by the newspaper. “Wonder what they did when the lights were out?” The tall blonde, pretty face, with the nice looking legs and great figure. Seems so out of place here. Should be riding in some limo somewhere or at least a taxi cab. A hooker perhaps? No.  Just someone new to the city, trying to break into some business or another. Wonder if she will make her appointment on time? The black teenage girl with the headphones on her head, rocking back and forth in her seat, lost in her music. Wonder if she ever even noticed when the lights were out?  Did it even matter to her? The elderly man with the cane, apparently alone. From a different era, he wears a hat, threadbare suite and tie that went out of style 50 years ago. Cane is black and appears to have a silver head on it. Shoes are shined bright and his face is shaven clean, crisp. Who could he be and where could he be headed? A mystery. And then, suddenly, without any warning to him at all, the train pulls into the station and he unloads himself like a lot of the other cargo on the train and then up the stairs to street level and he is overcome with all the people he discovers there for the first time since he moved there. He knows they have been here all along but he has just never seen them, like the other cargo on the train and as he walks along, he sees a banker, a secretary, several college students with their backpacks, some tourists with cameras and even a street hustler or two. It is as if the lights have finally come on in the city for him to finally see, be there.


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