Flash Fiction – The Passenger

I was already exhausted when I boarded the train home today. I don’t recall doing much work that would summon this type of tiredness. Perhaps my mind was working overtime at the office. I’m mentally drained. I remember missing my lunch break by a few hours. I don’t think I was really doing much work work. Either way, that subway ride really didn’t help.

I boarded the train, as I do everyday, at 6:30pm. F train to Brooklyn. From 42nd St. I saw all the usual notices: if you see something, say something; mind the gap, chew this gum, buy this beer. They were everywhere. Another reason I must be so tired: advertising overload. But really, it’s because she rocked my world. I chose the wrong train, the wrong time, and the wrong seat today.

I sat down in what I thought was a normal seat: free of debris, by the window, facing the right direction, and no one directly next to me. I sat down, removing one headphone from my ear to hear the train operator announce this was a Brooklyn-bound train, per usual. Then she boarded at the next stop.

She had on a red peacoat, skinny blue jeans, and black Mary Jane’s with white socks. The kind I wore as a kid in church and came back in style decades later for millennials like me. Her red hair was tied up in a bun, high above her head. She was fair-skinned and walked on her toes, almost tip-toeing to her seat, making her calves stand out from under her tight jeans. Her red hair didn’t clash with the red peacoat as any fashion magazine would presume. Everything seemed to fit into place in this woman’s life. As she sat down I noticed one thing. She had a tissue crumbled up in her hand, hiding on her lap. She stared blankly out the window as she sat in her seat, unaware that all that red would naturally bring attention to her arrival. She didn’t seem to care. She avoided eye contact with everyone. She sniffled and brought the tissue to her nose. That’s when I realized she was crying.

Her eyes were bloodshot from the tears. They collected in a small pool on her jeans, turning the denim a darker shade of blue. The tissue was now in a small ball, almost hidden in her clenched fist. She continued to stare out the window into the dark subway tunnel. She wasn’t the first woman to cry on the subway, certainly not the first I’d ever seen, but something about her begged for my help. Yet, I felt helpless. She sniffled again as I yanked my pad and pen from my bag. I was determined to pass her a note with a simple message that I was bearing witness to her cry for help and I was here if she needed me.

Ill-prepared for this moment, I scribbled tidbits of advice I thought I would want to hear in this situation. All I could muster were taglines from recent commercials I’d seen on Youtube. Or cheesy quotes from self-help books. I couldn’t even remember something profound from inspiring women like Maya Angelou or Gloria Steinem. For shame. Here I was, with an opportunity to help and all I could come up with were invasive, unsympathetic slogans for a better life according to the Internet.

Then it hit me. Like a train. The irony! I quickly scribbled down my wise words and realized how illegible my handwriting was. Cursive was never my forte. Who wants to get an ugly handwritten note that’s going to change their life? I opted for all capital letters, hoping she wouldn’t think I was yelling the words I knew she so desperately needed to hear. I ripped the page from my journal, expecting she would appreciate the sacrifice I made from my coveted diary, and folded the paper. I stood up, ready to proudly deliver my note when I noticed she vanished from the window seat. I turned to see if I could spy her red color scheme in another seat. She must have gotten off the train. I was so involved in my good-doing that I didn’t even realize her leave my peripheral. I decided this was all too much to handle in one evening and got off at the next stop to walk home. I got up, placed the note quietly on my seat and turned back, anticipating someone would appreciate my advice: IT GETS BETTER.


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