It is late. The inside of my mouth is tired. I wait for the 6 train at the Broadway/Lafayette stop on a Thursday. My body feels like it is holding onto too many things; I agree.
The train arrives and I watch a crowd of people get off.
This is an active station, I think to myself.
I don’t question why so many people are getting off; I just feel immediate gratitude that there will definitely be a place for me to sit after a long, long day of standing.
I get on and notice I am one of four people. I inhale. This is a part of living in New York City. We are surrounded by smells, which often chase people off trains or toward the other side of the street. When I moved away for three and a half years, I missed these smells. Now, I realize I have become one of the many who bolt.
I look to my right and immediately notice a human who I’ve seen before. He is large is every direction. Even his hair is looming. He wears a makeshift cloak and has bundles of hair on his face. Like a tantrum of fur. He is not wearing shoes and he is speaking to himself. This last fact is no longer strange since so many people wear contraptions in their ears and are singing along or talking to the noise. However, he didn’t appear to be wearing anything.
There were no smells. He was just a human without feet protection trying to get somewhere.
If this were fiction, I might write that I sat beside him and asked him how he spent his day. If he was hungry? Would he like the rest of my cantaloupe that I got from the farmers market yesterday. I’d tell him it’s so ripe that it will melt in your mouth, so let it slide down. Maybe we’d laugh about how slippery it is, as though each piece was trying to escape our mouths. Maybe I’d tell him how cool all his facial hair is and he’d compliment me on my tie.
The thing is, this is non-fiction. So, I have to be honest and say that his presence scared me a little. At one point, he started banging his feet against the subway floor and bellowing. His hairy face made him appear like a lion. He wasn’t saying anything mean or even translatable; yet I felt like I needed to move.
At the first stop, I got off and switched trains. I watched two other people follow and switch. When I sat down, I noticed a human laughing with his friend and pointing to the other train car. Whispering about this other.
I realized I was no better than this person making fun of another. I walked away and abandoned this person just because he was loud. Just because he was using his feet to create sound. Later on when I switched trains to the 4, I spent the rest of my ride with an extremely loud proselytizer. He was far more scary, reminding everyone on the train who was waiting for us if we made the wrong decisions. 666, he kept saying.
That man with the roar on the 6 train was simply existing. He did not smell, yet even if he did, I know I’ve had days where the heat caused my skin to haunt unpleasantly through its aroma. Social class does not always relate to our scents, nor does kindness or mental state.
That man with no shoes on the 6 train was a six year old once. Maybe he was great at math and had a best friend he climbed trees with. Maybe he was married once. Maybe he is kind.
Why do we walk away so quickly from those who look different than us?
Real fear is real. If he was calling out hate or clutching on to a weapon, then he should be abandoned. But that man with a lion’s roar on the 6 train was just trying to get somewhere. He was harming no one. Perhaps that howl was his way of saying hello.
I will never know.