“Seven Stops”

by aleXander hirka

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A screeching of brakes comes across the station.

“Please stand clear of the closing doors.”

The slap of the rubber as the doors shut is also the click of the ball locked into a roulette wheel slot.
The luck of the draw. Your money is down so relax into it. Look left, then right. A chance that Lady Luck may even have a seat waiting for you  – or else she’s busy breathing on somebody else’s dice and you get dealt some warning sight or stinging stench that instead will set your mind on a strategy for preparing to bolt to the very next car at the following stop.

Today an average hand of high and low cards has been layed out in front of you. Nearest the door a woman reads a magazine, the man next to her absorbed in a thick small paperback, embossed silver cover – suggesting action, intrigue – a page turner.

“If you see a suspicious package or activity, do not keep it to yourself. Tell a police officer or an MTA employee. Remain ALERT and have a safe day.”

And over here  – what are the odds?! – like bookends around the sleeping man between them – two people each reading holy scriptures – little black books with tiny print, one with gold leaf edged pages. These volumes contain messages from different gods – one speaking to the bearded man all in black, another to the Latin woman in bright sky blue. Books that present thoughts from the creator-of-all-this. All this?  This subway?  No – this train is human made, like these books they read from. But these readers are indeed accepting messages from The Creator – a creator who made the sun above-ground ; something they would both agree on.   A creator who gave that man further down the aisle the withered leg he needs the cane for.  That cane: human made. Wood for cane: creator.

Cane in French is une canne. That is what those other three travelers would call it, huddled over their subway map, trying to figure out some destination – it is their language. But they do not notice the man with the cane.  And what is the french for do-rag? – the cloth that the black man has covering his head – from whose ears, where the white wires end, treble tzzzzls emanate in a steady rhythm. His eyes are closed, oblivious to his seat-mate – her set of wires are black, silent. Her mouth sips cola through a straw, an elixir bottled somewhere far away, in huge vats of not-really-so-secret ingredients – sugar, water – then distributed so thoroughly that every little store in this vast city will have some. Different brands. Choices. Non-sugar variations too. Her tapping foot indicates that there is indeed music flowing from some source in her green bag upward into her ears.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a crowded subway is no excuse for inappropriate sexual conduct. If you feel you have been the victim of a crime, notify a police officer or an MTA employee. Remain alert and have a safe day.”

Music is a human creation of the most amazing kind – the international flavors are endless, the canned varieties very limited by the market. The economy is human, a game of control and distribution.  A woman reads her electronic book – only glancing up for a second every time the recording blares: “Watch the closing doors, please.” Bing. Without a book cover it’s harder to judge the reader by their book. And after all, up-and-down-scan-judgments are de rigueur for these underground rides ~ human measurements, analyses, and subjectively processed final categorizations of co-travelers. We creatures do that – the constant silent buzz of brains using what was, checking what is, and riding headlong into what will be. The rattle of the tracks is the soundtrack.

“Backpacks and other large containers are subject to random search by the police.”

Someone once said there is a number for everything.  We may not know what it is, but it is there. Six people with umbrellas – there must be a precipitation prediction in the air. Stuck here for more minutes than expected, the man in the suit, for some internal audience, displays the universal sign of exasperation: sliding his hands down his face while sighing loudly.  This visage grows into visible aggravation as a Mariachi guitar duo has entered the car at the far end and are making their happy way towards us. The child whose fingers were skating madly on the surface of some electronic toy, stops and stares – first at the musicians’ passionate strumming coming down the aisle, maneuvering around extended feet – then at the man struggling to lift himself up onto his wooden cane, reaching desperately for one of the poles to complete the process. The others look away as soon as the man’s struggle begins, they don’t see it, but out of the corner of their being they can feel it, feel the pain, want to keep it from intruding into their journey, their day.
One of the scripture readers watches, lost in thought, perhaps trying to ascribe a story of why his creator gave this creature this pain component; that analysis would certainly be a parable – one of endurance, acceptance, the rewards of an after-life – and perhaps a castigation on humans always wanting too much.

“If you see an elderly, pregnant, or handicapped person near you, please offer your seat. You’ll be standing up for what’s right. Courtesy is contagious and it begins with you.”

The sombreros and guitars have moved onto the next car, and the old man now crosses the station platform, slowly towards the express train that has arrived. Doors open, doors close. There’s a rigged-game certainty about it. Beat taxes and death still awaits. Maybe another cup of coffee at the office will help.

“Please stand clear of the closing doors.”

As the train nudges forward, spies, gods and advertisements regain the attention of the readers. Some passengers close their eyes, others press buttons on various small screens. Heads full of ideas and plans ready to move down the tracks. The wheel is slowly set back into motion. Red. Black. Red. Black.

Your stop is next.