I saw him as soon as I stepped on the train. Disheveled hair tucked under a dirty black hat. A rolling steel basket filled with filthy odds and ends. Cups, bottles, plastic bags creased from overuse and mud and what few belongings he had. He stretched out fully on the seat. No one dared to ask him to move.
Bad weather brings the homeless of New York to whatever sanctuary they can find. Most of the time that is the train.
Every now and then his whole body shook and the deepest and harshest smoker’s cough I’ve ever heard erupted. People tried not to look at him. I was also trying my best to ignore him.
Honestly, I have a fear of the many homeless people in this city. Some of them are mentally ill. Some dealing with addiction. Some are violent. I see them but I don’t want to know more. So I stay away and try not to see even when it’s right in front of my face.
Somewhere in Bushwick, he decided to get up. He cursed and mumbled. No one on the train made eye contact. He gathered his items and rose. He was slow and shaky on his feet. He hacked and cursed some more.
I thought the train door was going to close on him before he made it through. He managed and as soon as he left, he collapsed, his head making a sickening thud against the platform.
An audible gasp came from several of the passengers including me. Two people rushed off the train and lifted him up. He rose. His hat never left his head even after the fall. I’m fine. I’m okay. One man leaned him against a beam, another handed him one of his bags that fell with him.
The train operator’s door opened. The driver came out and quickly assessed him. He assured him he was fine. The driver returned to the train.
Stand clear of the closing doors please.
The train sped off from the stop with him still leaning on the beam with his sea of bags, his hat still in place.