Friday, June 15, 2018

Overnight Passenger (Day 513)

Thirsting for an open door, he wanders 
the aisle, empty at this advanced hour 
of blue laptop glare and sepia lighting.   
Gentle snores, rustling newspapers, and 
muted conversations roll with the motion 
beating, lifelike, beneath his feet.   

Gripping seat backs with both hands—
he does not want to land shamefaced in 
a stranger’s lap—he makes his way toward
the rear of the car, hoping some careless 
conductor foraging for unpunched tickets 
may have left the door ajar. 

Gone are the days, he tells himself, when 
passengers lingered on outside platforms, 
red-tipped cigarettes dangling from numb 
fingers. Longing for a time he never knew, 
he imagines people felt less encumbered 
by rules intended to keep them safe, free 
to choose their risks in pursuing the small 
pleasures that smooth life’s rough edges. 

No open door. Thirst unsated, he slumps 
into an empty seat and writhes, impatient. 
The night’s unbearable dreariness and the 
tepid, musty air sparks a barely-discernible 
panic deep in his gut, leaving little chance 
of sleep, and the relief of dreams.

When at last he disembarks, he gulps the 
cold wind blowing down the platform, and 
squeezes his eyes in exaggerated blinks 
to clear his vision. 

Just then, above his left shoulder, a familiar 
face brightens a tinted window in the next-
to-last car. He starts. His step stutters briefly, 
but when, suddenly alert, he looks again, 
the window is vacant. 

Commuters gush from every door he might 
use to reboard. His discomposure goes 
unnoticed. Around him, intent on its single 
goal, the crowd roils and surges, leaving 
no choice but to surrender to its command 
and be carried forward into the echoing, 
coffee-scented station. 

(c) 2018, by Hannah Six

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