The N train barreled through the tunnels, heading back to Queens. Kayden had found herself so affected by Zaria’s musings that the best thing she could do, as near as she could figure, was to return to her apartment. She had gotten more out of the night than she had expected, and it was unlikely that the 20 stops between 14th Street/Union Square and Coney Island would follow suit. Indeed, Zaria’s public breakdown had outweighed even the best goings-on of prior weeks.
The train had just disembarked from the platform at 49th Street, and was midway through the tunnel when it came to a screeching halt. Drunks grabbed for the stabilizing rails as their booze-logged bodies swayed toward the front of the car. Strangers merged with one another, dislodging the shopping bags and purses that separated one from the other. An old woman tumbled to the floor, landing perfectly on her rear end. For the next two minutes, as the lights of the train flickered and went soft, the woman’s moaning was all that broke the silence.
Once the passengers had regained their composure, a young woman rose from her seat and helped the old woman to it. The others on the bench spaced themselves out so as to provide ample room. It would have been a touching scene, were it not for the careless release of chuckles and chortles from a group of drunk men clustered near the front of the car. No one took them to task for their behavior, possibly because the scene had been quite humorous.
Before any one could ask aloud what the matter was, the overhead speaker chimed gingerly.
“Attention, passengers,” the voice of the conductor came calmly, made tinny by loose wires in need of replacing. “There has been an incident at the 5th Avenue station, and we are now in holding pattern indefinitely.”
The conductor’s boiler-plate platitudes thanking the passengers for their patience and understanding went almost unheard, buried under the countless lamentations. The choir of “fuck me” and “can you believe that shit” subsided after a moment, giving way to a cadence of perturbed sighs and agitated muttering as the wait extended into the yawning morning. Even Kayden, who would normally relish the chance to observe to her heart’s content, found the train’s immobility to be quite an inconvenience.
The subway was not her favorite place to explore her habits. Inside their cramped cars, people were more willing to wear their personas which won them their poor reputations. It wasn’t strictly a New York thing — not hardly. Indeed, it was a very human condition to break under the stress of being confined to closed quarters, not knowing how long it would be until your scheduled life could commence.
Compounding the issue was the relative unpleasantness that was trademark of all public transportation. Vagrants left their odors behind. Even if a homeless person had not been in a particular car for 20 minutes, still it would linger. What should have served as a reminder that there were men and women in dire need of help in the city, instead, served only to remind more prosperous members of society why it was they avoided contact with them.
When the smell of vagrants wasn’t burning the nostrils of impatient riders, the general woes of daily life would begin to gnaw at them. These concerns — often times petty, some times quite great — had nowhere to go, you see. There were no bars to dispense distracting tonics, no trails to be jogged, and certainly no pillow into which a person might bury his or her face and scream. They would rattle around in their synaptic cages, chewing and chewing until, at last, they could emerge.
Emerge they would, brilliantly and violently. A New Yorker trapped in a subway car was capable of terrible fury, and like antelope grazing listlessly in some prairie who can feel a predator approaching — feel it in their bones, in the very fiber of their muscles… such tension could be felt by all others on the train.
But man’s ability to discern from where, exactly, such danger might arrive was scattershot. Centuries of living in mostly controlled societies had dulled their instincts. As a survival mechanism, homo sapiens had learned to hang their heads and hope that the trouble would simply pass them by. Woe be upon the poor bastard who stood in its way.
It troubled Kayden that she could sense the tension rising, and yet the train showed no sign of moving. She kept her eyes to the ground, yet could not keep them from anxiously inspecting each passenger. Who would it be?, she thought. Who is going to make this worse? Who is going to cross that line?