The chilled wind threw handfuls of the sandy snow into the air and against my shivering body. I roughly tugged at the belt on my coat, pulling the warmth closer as I plowed forward. I thrust my hand into my pocket, grabbed my cell phone, and flipped it open to read the time. I squinted at the tiny numbers in the fading light. 4:45 pm. I exhaled loudly, each molecule strangled by stress as I smoothed down my skirt. I absolutely loathed leaving school so late. Book club always ran overtime and none of the members lived anywhere near me, leaving me to walk and wait for the M21 to the subway in solitude.
The students from the high school mere blocks away from mine that usually stood smirking on every street corner had left for home far earlier, leaving an echoing silence in place of their howls ringing through the neighborhood. I never am entirely alone during this time, which only makes the matter worse. Anonymous figures pass by me, faces tense in thought, their eyes focused on some far off place that only they can see as we bump shoulders. At the gas station where the bus stop is, cab drivers converse in languages that I never can recognize. Every now and then, a middle aged man bearing an expression of eternal weariness enters the bodega and buys a scratch-n-win card, his bagged yellowy eyes blazing with frustration when day after day he wins nothing. And there I am, leaning against the wall of the bus stop, waiting for what seems like an eternity for the slowest bus on the lower east side; the M21. There is never enough time to pull out some homework, but too much time for simply standing there.
I threw my headphones into my ears and began to let my music drown out my surroundings. Just as I was beginning to drift off, I noticed a strange figure approaching. He didn’t walk, instead lurched forward, as if his hips were the only part of his body that controlled his movement. This didn’t create so much of a limp, rather a painful pattern of falling and then catching himself with his other leg. He squinted his eyes in agony, limbs stiff, and tense. His olive colored skin looked dangerously dry, as if it would crumble at the slightest touch. After a handful of steps, over the duration of an entire five minutes, he hoisted himself up against the pole, aspirating heavily as he closed his eyes, his body completely motionless.
Reason instructed me to step farther away but that electric piece of curiosity and compassion inside of me said otherwise. Conflicted between moving closer to him or farther away, I ended up staying in the same spot. I stared at him, both confused and mesmerised by his entire essence. Suddenly, his body groggily flinched, like a dormant creature awaking from a month long sleep. Without opening his eyes, he lifted one hand and held it out towards me, his fingernails long and grimy, caked with dirt. His dry lips parted and waited a second before words tumbled through them.
“Come here, mam”
At first I didn’t respond, which I blamed on a mixture of not quite hearing him and being unsure of who he was talking to.
“Come here,” he whispered again, his grave voice straining to make sure to be heard.
He attempted to adjust himself in order to face me, but his attempt was in vain. I hesitantly took a small step toward him. His grainy eyelids opened, revealing orangey globes with red bulging veins. He swam inside clothes that were a good four sizes to large for his frail frame. I timidly looked at him, uncertain of what might come of this.
The corners of his arid mouth flicked upwards for a few moments before slowly descending downwards. His lips parted, awaiting words. The smell of mothballs and dried urine was thick in my nostrils. After an unusual pause, he spoke in his barely audible and scratchy voice.
“Do you know what time the next M9 comes?”
I blinked and then scurried over to the list of times, and picked one that seemed reasonable.
“4:07?” I guessed at random as I hesitantly walked back towards him.
He nodded, pressing his lips together, his eyes squinting in pain. A crack in his bottom lip split even farther apart, allowing just enough room for one, solitary, thick drop of dark red blood. I turned to walk away but before I had the chance, his voice, straining to be heard, called out to me again.
“I have to go to the hospital. I think I broke my back.”
I stood, stunned, unsure of how to respond. My hand dug itself into my pocket, searching for some money to give him for a cab to the hospital. But then it screeched to a stop. Why had he not called 911 for an ambulance? And how did he manage to hurt himself so badly, as his body was visibly wracked with agonizing pain? And how trustworthy could this man be? Before I knew it, my hand was out of my pocket altogether.
Unable to escape his mournful gaze, I muttered a quick, “I’m sorry,” and took a few steps away from him, my apprehension reigning over my concern.
I was unmoving, unsure of what his or my next move would be, ignoring the icy wind that viciously threw itself against me. Three silent minutes, that felt like three hours, passed, until his bus, the M9, finally arrived. It pained me to watch him, yet I could not manage to peel my eyes away from the tragic scene. I stood to the side and watched as this man violently attempted to throw himself onto the bus, his body jolting aimlessly. His stiff muscles reached out for a human savior for balance, only finding a handrail and a door to push off from.
My eyes followed him as he, at last, eased himself down into a seat as the bus puttered away. I could not bear to break the stare until the bus disappeared down Houston. With each blink, the image of his distorted figure flashed in front of my eyes, refusing to let me forget about him, the shattered and lonely, yet dependent remains of human flesh. I shuddered and felt tainted, almost grimy. Unable to stand frozen any longer, I buried my face into my wintry layers and power-walked to the subway, my thoughts nestling into a concerned grimace, like those figures that have always surrounded me, focusing on that far-off place that only I can see.
Age 15, Grade 10