The Loneliness of Long Distance Commuters


Rushing down the stairs to the platform, bells chime as the doors close. The accelerating subway pulling out of the station forces air up the stairs and against my face. I slow down, there is no longer a need to rush. On the platform, I join the other commuters, we lean against the wall. There is a small gap between me and the yellow line. Faceless strangers walk past trying to find a spot against the wall.

A timer on a screen says 3 minutes till the next train, I wait. Minutes later there is screeching and ringing as the train approaches. Cool air rushes against my face, bells chime and the doors open. The mob of people on the platform cram like sardines into the already packed train. The air inside is stale and warm.

The warm bodies inside push against me from all directions. The smells of perfume, cologne and body odor fill my nostrils. As the train sways with the tracks, we sway with it. Bodies shove in all directions, I push back, we flow together like water.

The train races forward, the doors chime and people fill in, my personal space becomes sparse. I try to take a deep breath, but there isn’t enough air.

We pass the junction, people are pushed against the wall, their desperate faces blend into the crowd.

The doors chime a few more times and people begin to leave. I can finally move and have space to breathe. The bells chime once more, people dump out and there is room for pushups. The train approaches my stop, now only the seats are full.

Off the train, someone yells “use the other stairs.” I follow the crowd up a creaking temporary staircase. People pass on the way down to their commute. Another crowd, but this one comes in all directions, passing through a turnstile I become part of it.

Taking a few quick steps I avoid most of the people trying to pass through the underground path. Opening a door I head up an escalator and into the light. I’m inside an office building, the sun shines through the windows in all directions. Another door and finally into the world. People line up, but I don’t know why. I continue to the bus stop. The air is beyond crisp, my parka is not enough.

A bus passes, then another, then another, finally mine. I walk straight to the door, so does everyone from the line. We pile in and grab seats, rest at last. We bump along, again the sun shines in all directions. People are standing, but there is still room for more. The bells rings and people get off, the bus is emptying out.

More twists and turns, more bells ringing, more people departing, we approach the end of the line. Pulling the rope the bell rings, it’s only me and the bus driver at this point.

The doors open and I step back into the cold, the wind blows against my face, the sun is bright and for a moment I am free.

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