Flashing darkness rolls by as
world swaying, feet tilting to match the heartbeat
windows filling with light, glowing faces of
perfect, stoic strangers
nasal voice stumbling, Grand Central Station
weary-eyed people straightening, grubby hands wrapping around purses and handles and
backpacks too full to be true ¾
tiniest rumbling doors growl open and
a hurricane shoves through.
Elbows digging into me, knocking as I cast a wary
glance behind me to see if I have dropped
Latin textbook, maybe, or a stray looseleaf paper
Wade in the shallows, swimming
hobbling old ladies whose scarves blow in my face
that head-touching-ceiling guy, above the rest
and the rest
screaming train entering the station
pressing index finger meekly to my ear
ARE THEY ALL DEAF?
Yes. Yes they are.
¾ never mind
rounding a corner plastered with wine slogans and
salmon going upstream
my ears tingle with something
woman standing in the corner, hair pinned up
flowing dress sweeping the tiles, scraping horsehair again and again
across taut strings, case at her heeled feet, instrument dutifully
and singing again
reluctant to stare, I
am swept up the ramp and up side stairs
to the six train without a look back.
I don’t see her today.
rushing up the platform
storm of raucous laughter erupts to my right
smirking at what, I don’t know + I don’t care
x-ing them out in my mind
math homework, undone
currently resting in my overweight backpack
almost late for school
stumbling up the ramp, legs heavy with what seems like
a hundred thousand stairs
plastic folding table
a woman, perched next to her nest, glasses glinting like magpie eyes
scarves (so that’s where those old ladies get their scarves!)
purses drowning in sequin
sweaters splayed lifelessly over ¾
knowing nothing more, turning to more
train swishing in above, rumbling like an glass-half-empty-sort-of stomach
cramped legs buzzing beneath me.
Blue bag swinging in hand
Other hand pressing against window
Grand Central rolls past, fluorescent lights glowing in a hearth of noise
down stairs, journeying through figments, flashes of
rustling coats brush against me, a pinprick of pain when
touching the metal handrail
mindlessly going with the swarm
glancing at sweet temptation
fried bread-things rolled in sugar
in a plastic box on wheels squeaking down the ramp
to a stop.
sprinting for the distant ding
of sliding doors
late again to swimming class
thinking about whether the water would be cold
Crunch of rolling shoulders + stretching back
Flexing sore arm muscles as they
backpack sandwiched between my legs
leaning against the door
watching tunnel walls slide by in my own personal movie theater
monotone of opening doors
hoisting backpack clumsily
searching for the seven train
and red diamond for express
I’m early for once.
I slow, get within mere inches of the new spectacle
ramrod perfection in threadbare jacket
thin trace of mustache
holding out a baseball cap in a calloused hand
eyes, almost gimlet, bright
ruffled, subway-blown hair with more salt than pepper
Change. Spare change please.
Bland voice, scientific specimen to passersby
But it’s all in there.
hands, slightly shivering
asking, no pleading
and brandish our Metrocards
look, really look at him
watering, aging eyes
soul, rough around the edges
like a begging child
moaning for Cherry Garcia ice cream
for us to squeeze our cards in anticipation
gut it through our purses.
Shivery darkness has already gone over the streets in a through cleaning
a few, standing at the edge of the platform, staring impatiently
down the tunnel
Some sort of Chinese instrument, that I’ve heard before on T.V.
Guilty for not knowing what it is, being Chinese and all.
seven strings across a wooden board
people crowding around her in the center of the platform
filming the instrument
(it must have taken a lot of work to carry that thing so far)
more people glide past
dropping dollars hither and thither
the girl smiles and nods, limber fingers smoothing the strings, stroking them like some
sort of pet.
Do I dare?
Half-circle crowd, surrounding, staring
No one moving
In the simple, lilting melody
Taking my green apple wallet out
Only pennies in there, all spent on this week
girl is moving alarmingly closer to me
walk, only hearing
my sneakers tapping on dusty tiles
pennies in the black case
she doesn’t nod
or look at me
eyes lowered to the wood-
-en instrument bottom
looking for all the world like
one of those American-made China dolls
hair covering her face
still yellow-toned legs
fingers dancing faster and faster
I can’t dodge the stares
Screeching train, cover ears
Step in, shoulders bumping into shoulders
Hand wrapping around cool metal pole
Soaring away, swifter and swifter
until the brightness disappears.
Michelle Chen, Age 13, Grade 8, Hunter College High School, Gold Key