A Subway Story

For most New Yorkers, Friday morning was like every other day. Of course the N train was crowded. Big and small arms stretched across more big and small arms in search of a pole or a corner for balance. A mother tickled her infant’s chin as it cooed and squealed in the stroller. Neighbors looked on and smiled at the sight of such maternal bliss. A sprinkle of daydreamers throughout the car gazed out the window with glassed over eyes, lost in their own thoughts. Everyone else was buried in something. Nose in book. Eyes on phone. Ears jammed with personal melodies. The air appeared still, normal and silent. The train was in perfectly harmonious order as it made it’s descent from Queens down into Manhattan. 

Then, one nose curled from a young woman whose eyes wouldn’t normally part from Jay-Z’s “Decoded.” She was forced to look up. Her eyes met with another young woman who winced at the same moment. Other eyes in the slowly clearing out car nervously met others, faces scowling in retched agreement. Then all eyes darted to the right of the car, scanning for the source of the putrid odor that distracted them from their travelling minds in such a disrespectful and abrupt manner. 

It was a woman. Her once-upon-a-time white sneakers hugged her feet, unlaced. Her mustard sweatpants were repulsively discolored with brown and black patches on the rear. Fingernails hung long past her fingertips and around the train pole, the other hand clutching an old newspaper. Her oversized green jersey probably did passengers more favors than displeasures, as it probably contained more seemingly lethal smells from escaping into the air. Her salt and pepper hair hung unwashed and uncombed, like a janitor’s discarded mop, around her face. She looked emotionless. Dismal really. In the midst of her silent, gawking antagonists, she stood there by the center doors of the train, destinationless. 

It’s hard to find compassion and pity in a place as busy as this city. 
It’s hard to have a heart when you’re praying you reach work before your presentation’s support to start. 
She’s just a bum that needs a bath
Whose smell you pray will quickly pass
Oh Lord, why’d this car have to be so packed? 
Get me home. Get me home.

But the thing is that this woman, whose smell offends so many, has to build courage not to break down and feel offended when one by one, passengers try to play off their escape to the next train car. Every day, total strangers look at each other and converse with their eyes, trying to figure out which stop they will rise, and switch to the other side, just to watch the unbathed from afar. 

There are no words. No feelings displayed. No objections. She just watches them go. She can feel the eyes of the privileged chastising her and saying in a way, “Don’t you DARE sit down here. You can’t sit here. Keep on pushin’.” But that’s her only home.

This is the story of far too many urban inhabitants. When exactly will the homeless, the dirty, the hungry, not be saved by us, but at least be encouraged to find a resolution instead of being cast aside by society? When will train riders and passersby be sensitive to the fact that these are also people, not animals nor unwanted creatures of the world? The world needs evolution, understanding, action, prayer and prioritization. But more importantly, it starts with compassion, sensitivity and genuine concern. 

If the world looked at each other human to human, human for human, not value for human, maybe something could change. 

It starts with one. Just one. Is it you?


  1. Beautiful, sis. Can totally relate and so eloquently put.



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