(Short Story) The Subway

“The Subway”

He woke up late.


5:51 AM.

It was because he slept late the night before. He hadn’t wanted to because he knew he couldn’t have but he couldn’t control himself because he felt like he had to do something do something to get out of the mess get out of the habit escape he wanted to escape but he couldn’t. Now he had damned himself to rush and prepare quickly mother said that eating too fast is not good for digestion but he had no choice so he ate less and he still had to eat quickly or miss the train and walk


5:52 AM.

Tie untightened suit creased case half closed sock slipping off in his shoe. Hair uncombed chin unshaved teeth unbrushed. Turned a corner and the subway entrance was right there almost there still far away he was tired. Going down the stairs one by one if he slipped and broke an ankle everyone at the office would have laughed but he had to go he could not be late or miss the train and walk


5:53 AM.

In the station now. Some light from outside but it was still night time yet he still had to work there was no one else. Boss does not show up until 8:30 but he would know about tardiness, he always knew. What the boss does he does not know but the boss is in charge and bad things happen when the boss gets mad pay cut extra hours busywork he has a degree but it is not useful and he still owes debt but he can not think about that he can only think about how he had to run how he could not be late or miss the train and walk


5:54 AM.

Silently thanked father for forcing him to participate in track and field in high school he was no good but he was pushed to train hard and he got better and now he could run fast. Please do not let the train be early today please please please do not let the train be early please he just needed to get on the train


5:55 AM.

The waiting area was empty the ticketperson was not even there so he used the machine but the stench of the subway persisted and there was a dripping sound though it has not rained in days the train had either not arrived yet or it had already left. The train should have been there it was never late there could not be delays because he was the only one there and no one else took the 5:55 train because no one else had to work this early except for him. There was a yellow notice taped onto the glass window of the empty ticketbooth Due to mechanical issues, the 5:55 train will be severely delayed today.


5:56 AM.

It seemed like the entire world froze over. His adrenaline, his rush, and his energy was completely depleted. His feet wanted to buckle but his stomach clenched; if only he could have butterflies in his stomach for once, for he only ever felt unstoppable razor blades. He suddenly felt like a puppet, like his arms and legs were controlled by a mind that was not his, a mind that was perhaps more sinister. Stumbling over to the nearest bench, he clutched his chest and tried not to throw up his breakfast of a slice of bread and a glass of diluted juice, for it was the only nutrition he would have until lunchtime. Thankfully, there was no one around to make him feel embarrassed if he needed to make a scene. He always hated making a scene.


5:57 AM.

He checked his watch that father gifted him when he became an adult. It was a family heirloom and was way too large for his slim wrists, twice, thrice as wide, but father forced him to wear it to remind him of “responsibility” and “timeliness”. It was the most valuable thing he had, it was the most “adult” thing he felt he had. Father was gone now, however, but every time he tried to take off that stupid bulky watch he felt guilty. Mother suggested that he should sell it to help free him from debt but he couldn’t; he wanted to feel like he owned something, something of value, even if it was only valuable to him, but also felt embarrassed that that valuable thing was an old watch.

Today, however, he felt especially silly for allowing such a dastardly thing to adorn his wrist. It kept sliding around his wrist and at times threatened to slip off completely, once actually falling off onto a concrete sidewalk. Miraculously it didn’t scratch but he wished it had, so he could free himself from his obsession with the object. He never actually looked at it for the time, anyway. He just wore it to make himself seem more professional, since father had worked so hard to get him a job that “only the realest of men have” in the business world. Mother did not have any suggestions herself but agreed with father, telling him that he was “lucky he didn’t have to get his hands dirty, working for the big accounting firms”, and that “it was perfect for him because he didn’t have the strength or energy to work in manual labor”. It was days like these that the irony piled up on itself, because, despite the watch, he was still late, and despite his “fancy job”, he was still poor, and still exhausted. The only thing that seemed to never change was how little control it seemed he had over his life.


6:00 AM.

His heart had calmed by now, and he decided to wait for the train to come again, whenever it would. The sun was rising outside and poking in through the vents, but there was still no one else there.

Still sitting in the bench, his mind began to wander again. He knew he was going to be late, and he knew that boss would find out. There was nothing he could do and he felt helpless, but for the time being, he found solace in the silence, in the calm before the storm. He chuckled to himself. Even if the train delayed itself for a half an hour longer, he would still arrive before boss did.

He sighed. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had just been rushing, but now, as he sat awkwardly, alone on the bench, he felt like he had lived in that position his whole life. He felt trapped; the hot air from the underground subway system lingered around him like a suffocating blanket, and his nose never really adjusted itself to the smell. He could only see the waiting area and the narrow space where the train would pass by between the wall and the platform he sat on, as the rest was shrouded by the darkness of the maze of underground tunnels of the rail system. There will still no one else around.


6:10 AM

He checked his watch again for the time. It was still very early, earlier than when most normal people would usually wake up, and definitely earlier than when most of his coworkers and his boss would usually wake up. He felt a familiar pang of anger. He was one of the only workers with a college degree, a degree that father had urged him to get to advance his career, a degree that ended up being more of a financial burden than a blessing. A degree that he wouldn’t have gotten, if it were ever his choice to make.

He had actually wanted to study art. As a young child, he loved going to museums and expositions. He loved every form of art, from painting to sculpture to theater to music; he reveled in the expression and the independence and the uniqueness of the ideas, the styles, and the thoughts. He was entranced by how artists acknowledged rules, customs, and traditions but then skirted them, or utilized them for their own purposes. They not only created beauty, but established cultural norms, and took control in changing society and how people viewed each other and the world.

He was never given the chance to pursue his dreams, however. Art was “not a stable field” and quite simply “a subject for pussies and knock-offs”. It wasn’t just father that said that; every single teacher that he had had in the past had purposefully stifled his curiosity and curtailed his attempts at creativity. He was always taught to follow the rules and procedures, to be on time and professional, and to be productive in practical ways, not by mixing colors on canvas. And so he went to business school, studied a “useful” subject, and got a job at a firm. And so was he stuck. Trapped.

He thought about killing himself. He pondered jumping in front of the train right as it came, as a protest not only to his peers, those who forced him into submission, but also himself, for not having the willpower to fight back and take control of his own life. He was tempted with the chance, the final chance, for him to do something for himself, to finally take back the reigns of his fate. It would be his last and only act of rebellion, a triumph to end all failures.

But he couldn’t. He was scared of death, even more than he was scared of living. He wanted to make a statement but he knew he wouldn’t be missed, except for by his poor mother. And he certainly didn’t want to die in the subway, under the ground, in the dirt and the stench.

So instead, he did the next most rebellious thing he could think of. Unable to control his fit of rage, he ripped his precious watch off, and threw it at the train tracks.


6:30 AM.

Watching as the golden watch hit the rails, all of his vigor left him. He felt a pang of guilt. How could he have been so brash? Throwing it was a horrible idea. He should have pawned it for money, as mother had suggested. He could have made a nice profit out of it.

He leaned over the edge of the platform, straining his eyes to see if the watch was still intact where is sat between the tracks. It was. In fact, it never looked better; a shiny yellow jewel in the dust and dirt of the station floor, it looked so rare, so precious, and he had just thrown it away, the most valuable thing he had. He was horrified with himself, not only that he had thrown the watch, but that he had allowed his rage, his untempered emotions, to get the better of him. He quickly lowered himself off of the platform and dropped down onto the narrow tracks.


Then, around the corner of the tunnel, he saw the light of the approaching train.


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