New York subways are always bustling in Uptown Manhattan. People shuffle from both sides of the concrete platform in dim, yellow light. Indecipherable chatter clouds the ears as strangers take turns beating each other with their bags in passing. A gushing, cold wind breezes through the tunnel on the sound of a blaring horn. The speeding subway follows with the power to snatch stationed feet from the edge of the platform. It skids to a stop bringing two kinds of people face to face – those waiting directly in front of the doors to get on and those waiting directly in front of the doors to get off. The doors slide apart and the people weave. And the entire routine begins again.
And there they were again, two of the best of friends shuffling through the crowd. They made their way to the far right side of the subway station where a dark gray wall of concrete stood in place of soiled white tiled surfaces. Maya spotted something that did not blend in with the dingy siding – a man’s face. He was sitting on a crate and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. His dark eyes were sincere somehow – noble. Regal lines designed his countenance. One might say there was a handsome man behind all the dirt and scruff. There were folded blankets, a couple of newspapers and a Styrofoam cup of something beside him. He raised it to his lips and took a sip.
“How are you ladies doing today?” He decided to greet them after watching them for a couple of weeks.
Just as Maya opened her mouth to return the warm greeting, Stephanie beat her to it. “Oh shut up!” She rolled her expressive brown eyes.
The gentleman frowned, positioning his mouth to respond.
“Stephanie!” Maya scolded her. “That was mean.”
“Don’t tell me that was mean. You’re new here and you have to be tough out here – not so gullible!”
“But the man only asked how we are.”
“Yeah, that’s how it starts out sometimes.”
The gentleman tried explaining. “Excuse me Miss, I want to assure you that I meant no…”
“Shove off!” Stephanie blurted again.
“Hey, enough of being rude…” Maya interrupted. “Come on, there’s our train.” Maya nudged her friend ahead and looked over her shoulder. “I’m sorry Mister.” Light brown crinkles fell over half her face.
The next morning brought with it and even greater crowd that was sure to fill the subway to capacity. The “Nubian Prince” still sat on his throne on the far right side of the station. He sported a hygienic shine – perhaps a mission allowed him a shower and a shave. Fine, black hairs above and below his lips outlined his smile when he saw Maya.
“Good morning,” She returned the friendly gesture.
“I was hoping to see you again.” He said.
“Yeah, wanted to tell you your apology’s accepted.”
“Apology?” Maya frowned a bit.
“Oh yeah, my rude Stephanie,” She lowered her head, rubbing her brow. “Thank you.”
He shrugged and looked away, toward the tunnel. “Your train’s coming.” His words were followed by the cool wind and piercing horn.
“May I offer you some change?” Maya asked.
“No.” He faced her again. “Thank you. Have a good day.”
She nodded and approached the edge of the platform. The crowd was a boa’s squeeze on the steel contraption. Maya could not resist a frowning gape as she noticed a particular couple. While constricted, they enjoyed a conversation literally inches apart from each other – a man and a woman, as close as an attempted kiss. But suddenly, a yawn attacked the woman and she stretched her mouth wide, like a hippopotamus without covering an inch of it. The man did not blink. And when it was over, they continued talking like nothing happened.
Once “topside”, the public gave a new meaning to life. Everything and everybody was moving. The streets were rivers of vehicles of every kind. Ornaments on buildings containing obsidian like materials reflected sunlight which gave the appearance of movement. And all four corners seemed to hold one hundred occupants that were anxious to dive across the streets when the street lights were about to turn green – constantly on the run to or from something.
Maya surveyed the area and found herself in the same spot, late evening, traveling in the opposite direction. She trotted down the stairs to the subway station where only a scarce amount of prospective passengers awaited. She mounted the train for home. Newspapers and books were spread open before some faces and other faces leaned on propped fists. The train transported her fifteen minutes, uptown. The doors opened onto a deserted platform. Maya’s subway car partners scurried up the steps as she relished the quiet. She glanced to the far side of the station only to find the crate throne empty although there was a clicking noise in the area. She stepped in tandem as if to count each stride. Maya gasped when someone grabbed her from behind and froze at the point of the blade at her throat.
“Give me your money.” His hot breath, tainted with alcohol splattered against her cheek with bits of spit.
Maya could not execute any of the commands she would yell out to the damsel in distress in any of the thrillers she’d seen: kick ‘im in the groin!, Shoot a back kick into his knee! Elbow him in the nose! All of her effort went toward remaining calm. She did manage to mutter, “I only have change on me.”
“Don’t lie to me! Hand it over!”
Maya groped in her jacket pocket and pulled out a twenty.
He snatched it. “Give me the rest!”
“I don’t have anymore – honest!” She shook her head.
“Don’t…lie to me!” He growled. He clutched her arm like digging talons into it and spun her around to face him.
“Let the lady go.” A voice spoke from behind a column. Both Maya and her attacker briefly searched the area. As bleak as it was, those words could have been uttered by the invisible man. He yanked her into himself so hard that she banged her head against him and found the knife at her throat a second time.
The attacker growled again. “Back off, punk or I’ll cut her!”
“Let the lady go.” The voice gave another chance.
“I’ll cut her!” He began dragging a whimpering Maya backward. The blade pricked her skin and she squealed and reached for the blade. Her attacker yanked her into the fold of his arm.
The voice whispered. “Hey,” The nemesis spun around, catching the whip of a jab to his throat. He gurgled a mixture of spit and air and dropped to his knees.
Rubbing a hand over the broken skin, Maya saw the “Nubian Prince” standing over the attacker. She stared in awe as she worked to catch her breath. He reached down to snatch the twenty dollar bill and approached her with it.
“Thank you,” She opened her hand to receive it. “You must be my guardian angel.”
“When a man’s family is destroyed, he’s likely to help a lady in distress – go on – hurry and get home.”