One hot March afternoon we passengers waited on a subway platform. We were dressed in coats with scarves and gloves in hand. I had my coat, sweater and the rest in my arms. I even thought of taking off my T-shirt but didn’t because of my physical insecurities. Our senses were bombarded with smells and sensations that disgusted us. Standing still, my face, chest and back started to get moist from sweat. Most people were covered in it with nothing to do but wait for the train and the relief the air-conditioning in it might provide. Faces were clenched. I was lucky because I found a paper towel I had unconsciously put in my pocket after drying my hands earlier at work. I used it to soak up the beads of sweat on my forehead and the center of my chest. After some minutes a train could be heard coming toward us. The result was a warm breeze an approaching train gives that helped soothe our tortured conditions. As it slowly entered our stop our hopes were dashed when the train tooted it’s horn as an indication that it would not stop and then it sped up. It was full of people all standing and looking at us through long windows. Eyes were ominous. I wondered if they even had air-conditioning because they looked as miserable as we did. I knew the second I heard that horn we would be there for a longer time. But it wasn’t until it left the station that many of the others realized it. I thought of other things and put myself somewhere pleasant. The woman next to me cursed under her breath for a good thirty seconds. She looked tired yet there was an energy in her eyes that hadn’t been there before the train passed. She wore a rag on her head and had a black leather jacket on. I could imagine she was soaked in sweat. Her skin was shiny and black.
After ten more minutes a train arrived and the passengers getting off seemed angrier than the passengers getting on. There was no room to move around unless people backed into other people. Which is what we did to clear a path for them. Then our river of people snaked onto the train to find there was no air-conditioning. I could hear the black-leather-jacket woman behind me muttering. And then I heard her shout. “Don’t push me! Don’t you push me!” I could imagine someone pushing her again because she stopped and turned around and in a Haitian accent said, “I gonna fuck you up if you push me again!!” The doors were not yet shut and the people still on the platform made the choice to either try squeezing in or staying and waiting. I think the black-leather-jacket woman helped them decide to wait for the next train. Now inside with doors closed, the tension was thick. We didn’t want to have to dodge fists and fingernails on top of all we were suffering through. I felt as if I were in a death trap. A sardine-can-human death trap. I heard the other woman say, “I’m not pushing you. Everyone’s pushing me.” It was a white woman in her early 30’s. Most probably a Kansas transplant living high adventure in the Big Apple. The black-leather-jacket woman stopped and at that moment I took a second to look around me. Below me were worried faces sitting and picturing the crisis in their minds. Jammed around me were nervous secretaries and home attendants just out of work. The black-leather-jacket woman locked eyes on her prey. I was afraid.
“DON”T PUSH ME!! Don’t push me!!!” a man’s voice boomed temporarily diverting our doomed collective attention. Without feeling better or worse, we wanted to know the new threat. “If you don’t want persons to push you then go upstairs and take cab! But we can’t afford so that’s why we are here!” A man said with a Russian accent. I searched and saw him at the back of the car. He was the tallest person on the train with gray hair and a snub nose. I turned to get the reaction of the closest person to me. Our noses were inches apart. She only moaned and rolled her eyes. Oh no. More crap! I don’t need this. She seemed to say. The Russian man leaned forward and locked eyes with the Haitian woman. She looked at him unfazed with the same aggression she showed the Kansas transplant. And then he shouted so loud.
“DON’T PUSH ME!!! DON’T PUSH ME!! MY WIFE PUSH ME EVERY DAY!! EVERY DAY!!! I don’t want persons push me either. But my wife, she push and she push!” at which point the tension, which was almost visible in the air, mercifully cracked and fell to the floor. Everyone broke into laughter and so did I. I turned to smile wide-eyed at the Haitian woman and she just turned away from me in a huff. I looked at the “I don’t need this” woman and her eyes were bright with laughter. I had never been a part of a group-emotion like this before and I found it fascinating.
The man continued, “She say why you don’t have good job! Why you don’t make more money? I don’t like New York. I don’t like food from New York. I go home to live with my brother. You never give me . . .”
By Daniel Rodriguez