After moving to New York from a small mountain town in North Carolina, I remember feeling euphoric at the thought of living in such a spectacular City; and I made sure to take advantage of every free moment by exploring. It took a year and a half of whittling down my enthusiasm with nine-hour work days before I started falling into a routine that would be similar to anywhere else: get up, go to work, eat, sleep, repeat.
I stopped thinking anything of the teeming tourists or incognito celebrities unless they fell across my path when I was late to work. However, the one aspect of living in New York that has remained unique is the presence of its metro: the New York City subway. At the beginning and end of each week day, I board the train for a gloriously brief fifteen minute commute.
One summer evening, I was lucky enough to catch a train just as it was arriving. I hopped on a relatively empty car and settled myself near the sliding door that allows for entry and exit between the train cars. Music blasted through my headphones as I felt the usual lurch forward. I was already falling into a semi-cognitive state when I noticed a commotion at the opposite end of the train car. There was a young guy in a suit face to face with a tall man with dirty clothes. Their attire was all I caught before noticing that the remaining passengers were peeling out of their seats, sprinting directly toward me.
“He’s got a gun! Run!”
In what felt like slow motion, I uprooted myself and was immediately sandwiched in between a group of ten people trying to squeeze through the train car door into the neighboring car. The squeal of iron on iron filled my ears as someone knocked frantically. “Let us in!”
A confused expression crossed the face a gentleman on the other side of the neighboring car door. He shook his head after trying to open it, signaling that the door was stuck.
My body was in an L shape. I felt the pressure of bodies pushing in on me at all sides. We were bent down, which in hindsight, would not have been helpful for us. We were sitting ducks for the man with the gun. Prayers spilled out of my mouth, and I wondered when the blackness would come. Or is it a light that appears once one dies?
It is still a mystery as to how long it took before the next stop’s platform emerged from the darkness. Time is mercurial in that way. It could have been five minutes; it could have been fifteen. I heard the automatic doors opened, and the conductor announced where we were through a fuzzy speaker, just as always. There was a cautious release of pressure behind me as people stepped back. I stood up and turned around.
Some brave soul ensured that the doors did not shut before the apparent threat was neutralized. It appeared that the two men who had been arguing had not moved since the time I had first seen them. The man with the dirty clothes exited the train in a huff. The automatic doors dinged and closed. The train lurched forward.
Excited conversation began to flow around me. “I’ve seen that guy before. He’s crazy.”
“He said, ‘I got somethin’ for ya’ to that young guy. He reached into his pocket. It looked like he might’ve had a gun.”
I heard a sputtering and heavy breathing. A giggle. They were laughing. Uncontrollably. My mouth was pulled at the corners by some invisible string into a smile, but I felt nothing on the inside.
A foggy silence engulfed me shortly after, as though I was looking at the world through frosted glass. My stop came and I exited the train. I robotically climbed the stairs to my third-floor walk up and immediately crossed over to my bedroom window. Looking out at pink, fluffy clouds, I reflected on the reality of where I lived: a city of eight million inhabitants, all squished in on little over 300 square miles of land. Life here wasn’t like anywhere else. I would never forget that again.