Walking through the breeze of the waning New York City summer, your feet, your calves, your thighs all beg you to stop, to sit down. Your mind is on other, less relevant, things as you walk down 34th Street. You barely even remember that you have feet; that you are, in fact, walking. The subway at Herald Square beckons, the metro card burns a hole in your pocket, and as if they have a mind of their own, your feet take you down the stairs and towards the uptown train. The platform beckons. Its pungent aroma flows into your nostrils, and brings you back; a warm, comfortable, and familiar smell. It isn't a bad smell, just a smell that is inescapable and inimitable.
There are a thousand stories on any given subway platform at any given time. A thousand stories never told. A thousand hopes and dreams and disappointments. The woman lost in a novel, loudly bemoaning the choices of its characters. The handicapped man, pushing himself towards the end of the platform, coughing slightly. The woman all dressed up from a long night of spending someone else's money in a posh lounge in the East Village; even now, a few hours later, still so stoned from the white line that her mind races and her head looks quickly back and forth. The two midwestern women, map in hand, going the wrong way to get where they want to be. A chinese man missing two teeth mutters to himself in the corner. A man from Harlem waiting for the 2 or the 3, hoping his hot-plate wasn't stolen. The waitress next to the magazine stand came to New York to be an actress. A woman coming back from a shopping trip, heading back to the upper west side, ready to unwind, to sleep. The young couple, can't be more than 25, staring into each other's eyes and feeling her stomach, playing with their rings. A man reads the paper, a girl reads People, a boy plays a video game, and teenager sings silently, a song only he can hear. For this moment, waiting for the subway, they are one, they are all the same. None better or worse than the other, despite what the woman loudly talking about her grad school at Harvard thinks.
Stepping up to the edge of the platform, you can look and see that the train is approaching. First one, and then the second headlight comes around the bend. The brilliant red of the number one on the front spelling out "H-O-M-E" to this motley collection of lives and experiences. Each will go home and sleep, and never see one another again. This one moment of oneness is short. Each tries to ignore the other as the train pulls up, its wind whipping your jacket up around you. As the doors open, the bond breaks. The people get onto their respective cars, their destinations not overlapping. The group disbands, as soon as it formed, its members joining a new group of anonymous strangers in their respective cars, anonymous once again, sitting among the faces staring blankly forward, each with another story to tell.
You'll never hear the story of that baby's birth, never hear about the gorgeous twenty-something's intervention and rebirth. Never hear about the handicapped man's accident, or the tourist women's trip up the Empire State Building. You'll never hear about the man from Harlem's new apartment in Queens, or the chinese man's new teeth. Never again will this group see each other again. A ding, followed by the mechanical sound of the closing doors ensures that. Your life seems boring to you, just walking around SoHo, but it's exotic and exciting to the 16 year old girl from Kansas who wants to be a poet. The man from Harlem lives in a palace compared to a boy in Africa, dreaming of a life of such opulence. Something different always is appealing, isn't it? But, the train starts to move, the pillars passing faster and faster, taking you away from this chance meeting of lives and experiences, never to come back.
Your stop arrives, the doors ding and open, and you walk back out into the night. You pull your jacket around you, having left the warmth of the subway for the breezy evening once again. No one from the platform is with you, you are alone again, ready to go to sleep and wake up tomorrow, writing more of your story. The people on the subway are just a memory, their stories have no place in your life now. Did they ever have a place? A thousand stories never told is still a thousand stories.