The girl pulled long nails down a parched hand in the heat, and small flakes of dying skin floated beautifully to the silver ground. Her eyes trailed the blurred darkening colors of heavy jackets, resting momentarily on different outlined faces. A small boy, red faced and grinning stood grasping the hand of his mother. The colors blended in the heat and movement.
The doors opened. The ding of the metal clashing fervently against the soft padding,
and the hiss of the resting tracks struck out. The masses parted, pressed nervously against the walls of the car, feeling the instance of vulnerability the shadow brought. He crossed into the car and the girl could make out every feature. The red eyes crested with hunger. The dark burning skin covered by careful drapings of dirty cloths. The straggled tufts of hair jumping tiredly from the black rusting skull. The lips turned down and wrinkled with fear. He came clearly through the path, dragging onto the hard floor, the doors hissing angrily from behind as they slammed. He hunched over, and the dark canvases crouched in stance, dripping statically from the blending light. The man’s lips parted, “Could you spare some money please, God bless you. Please. For the hungry. Please. For the poor.” The voice crackled above the humming crashing train, clear and open. The small boy stared curiously up, eyes unguarded. He reached a white pale hand forward, leaning forward, until he was wrenched back across the wall. Eyes averted, a man suddenly fascinated himself with a billboard above. The sound of harsh shoes drawing lines on the squeaking floor echoed.
The girl pressed her hand raw against the sharpness of her nails. Leaning eyes up toward the smooth bland gray of the subway ceiling, masked in parts by clumsily hung poster ads. The man’s hands bent forward, cracked, jagged, raw. They cupped the soiled air of emptiness in their broken palms. They held there, for a moment in the plastered persona of ignorance in the girl’s eyes. Then they fell defeated, parched, hungered, hopeless, to his dirty sides. With broken steps, he moved forward, gripping with protruding knuckles at the cold metal bars. Stone icyness parched the throat, and the subway car was silent but for the fast hip-hop leaking from the speakers of another rider. The colors of the subway car patched together a jumbled mess of grays and blacks, jumbled but separate. The man sat. Clutching to the edge of the seat, his chest heaving with dry tears and constricted breathing. He dropped his head into his lap and reached his shaking hands around his face, hiding his eyes. A woman next to him rustled against the black garbage bag lying between his feet. The child stood near, face half concealed behind the dark flat coat of his mother. One eye looked out, wide and blue, and his lips parted in surprise. The car skidded, and a jostle of movement propelled the mother forward. With the boys small warm hand clutched in hers she took a wide step, shoes blinking in the light, over the threshold of the cars and onto the dirty station. The boy looked back once.
“103rd street. Next stop 110.”
The window in the back of the train car became etched in darkness as the train lurched. The tracks clattered backwards faster until they became a blur in the back window. An eerie silence circled the shadows gliding in and out of focus around the man. And the girl stared with glazed eyes, counting the patterns of lights flashing until the next stop. The moment seemed deflated, and yet it was swelling again. Rising upward to scratch helplessly at the bubble surrounding the seated people. The girl stared upward toward the reflection of the subway window, bouncing up and down in the rumbling movements. She could see the outline of the man crudely indented into her vision. Twisting her foot in the jagged time of an imaginary song she began to scratch at her hand again. It was red raw under the crimson lights from the train windows. She looked closely at it, focusing on every rupture in the smooth surface. The redness fluctuated with the twitch of every vein, and she twitched her muscle to see the red flow like a wave over her skin and then die out. Her fingers jerked impatiently, lurching forward, measuring the distance from her chipped black nail-polish to the silver pole near the door. Subconsciously she pressed her nail to her hand, outlining the white ripples with her pinched fingertips.
She did not dare look up to the reflection. In her pocket she rifled through papers, feeling each one delicately for the embossed number one or five. Her fingers embraced a number. She pushed it aside, fingers shaking, and removed her hand from her pocket eyes still on the floor. She scratched her hand.
The jingle of coins entered the car. The sliding door from the platform in front slammed against the rubber padding. The girl looked up hopefully. A shape stood forward onto the threshold shrugging his shoulders up and down, moving sideways in the beat of a song crashing through his headphones. The chains attaching his blue jeans jingled again. The jeans were dark blue, the stitching indented into the stretched material. They hung around him loosely, plastering his thighs and pushing away in loops of empty air from his ankles and knees. He forced his way back into the car, jostling against people, until the blue jeans blended with the color of the black tunnel. The girl looked away. A man smiled up at her from overhead. He told her about the car insurance he was selling. The money she could save if she switched. He was adorned in bright colors, and yet he blended with the falsely phosphorescent lights glinting by, there and then gone.
The girl moved toward the pole, brushing against the jacket of a man. She turned at the movement. The expensive jacket was gone. The absence was noticeable, centering the man squished into the subway seat with his hands around his face. He looked black, yet he did not blend with the dark colors of the subway tracks. He sat too still in the rumbling currents of the moving train. His hands stayed clasped around his eyes. His hands were dark and raw. His hands were large and trembling.
The train began to slow, quivering to a stop. The girl moved. The crowd pushed her toward the exit. Her hands shook in her pockets as she fingered the leafy paper. She looked back towards the car, but her view was blocked by the gray blurred coats dripping neatly down, covering the indented figure. She saw a lady entering the train. The woman wore a pick satin overcoat. She clutched a wallet in one hand and a metro card between the tips of manicured nails. She gripped it firmly, scratching off the black ink that signed the card with long talons. The girl saw the woman’s eyes travel across the subway car, her feet hesitate on the platform. The girl saw the disdain in her eyes, she saw her hand clamp over her purse, but she refused to care. The girl looked for a moment, then turned in a flash towards the platform reading 110th street. She crumpled the paper into her pocket with firm hands and then removed them. Her eyes followed the women as the subway car began to lurch forward. She smiled. She saw the money in the women’s hand. It would be ok. She looked at the hand push it deep into the pocket of the pink coat, but refused to see it. The woman, not her, would make it ok. Her glazed eyes saw only the exit. Only her hands lying flat and pale against the wrinkled folds of her blue coat. She did not see the train rush by her. She did not see the pink coat move away into another car. She saw the fluorescent beams of sunlight through the tunnel.
I moved toward the barred subway door, my palms against my legs. I did not see the man press his dark raw hands against his dirty face. I saw my hands shining.
I saw that everything was ok.
Age 15, Grade 9,