Empty Seats


You’ve had a terrific weekend of good weather, great food, and excellent conversation. But alas it cannot last. It’s Monday and it’s time to get back to work.

You’re used to this dance with public transportation in this city. People rushing in front of you only to wind up getting on the same train and sometimes the same seat. People too big for that space who just have to sit next to you. But today, something changed.  Today is different.

As the A train slows to a stop you see empty seats. This is a rare occasion and you say to yourself, “I am going to get that seat!” Except you actually said it aloud and people are looking at you crazy. They’re probably thinking the same thing so you don’t mind.

The train doors open and a surge of people charge out to that familiar dance  of hurry. You practically skip to the whole row of empty seats.

The happiness you felt just seconds ago is fleeting. Because now you see why the seats were empty.

Directly across from you and practically glued to bench meant for three is a mountain of a man encrusted in white dust, grime, and neglect. He is shoeless.  His feet have inches of rough, scaly skin and his toenails are thick, twisted, long, and black.

He doesn’t say a word but often moves to adjust the threadbare blanket thrown across his lap. Each movement assaults the senses.

For three long train stops, you sit. Contemplating the next move. The teenager next to you has a hand covering her nose. The woman across from you is recoiling into her seat and has twisted her body in such a way to avoid even facing the man’s direction.

You feel bad but torn. This man is not well and obviously in a very bad place but obviously you feel uncomfortable too.

When the train doors open you promptly exit the seat and go to the next car. No seats. Just standing.  It’s just two more stops so you don’t mind. You peer through the window. The man is still there and people are staying clear. You wonder what his final destination will be.


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