Mona loves the sickly, warm light of the rickety old subway carriages. It gives a very homely, welcoming, safe feeling. This particularly deep shade may have come about over the years, probably from the layers of grime collected on the inside of the light shades. No one probably cleans them, she thinks. But how does it get inside? The lights must be sealed. Perhaps such is grime, it gets in everywhere.
“Entering Arlington,” the conductor announces, his words dribbling racing over each other, much like prisoners unexpectedly freed. “Doors will open on the right, please take all your belongings.”
The carriages each have their own conductor, cordoned off partially by a partition with a door-sized opening. Each carriage has two rows of seats, facing each other. A mother and her young daughter, maybe five or six years old Mona guesses, sit directly opposite to Mona. Plastic pixie ears stick out on top of the girl’s hoodie. She looks so cute. Mona has been stealing glances at her since two stops ago when she got onto the train. She doesn’t want to stare and appear creepy or something. A teenaged boy is slumped next to the little girl; his head resting on the window behind. He seems to have been asleep since Mona got on the subway. She wonders if he has missed his stop and is just circling around the route. But surely the conductor would have awakened him if that had happened. The train slows down as it enters Arlington station and then eventually stops next to the platform.
The doors accordion out – people begin to vacate their seats, creating a vacuum filled by others waiting on the platform. A middle-aged woman slides into the seat next to Mona, pulling her unusually large pink-cloth bag to her lap. Mona shifts in her seat to accommodate the woman’s large sides. The pixie-eared girl and her mommy have left. Mona didn’t even see them leave. A young twenty-ish man and an older gentleman are now in their seats. The twenty-ish flashes Mona a smile. Mona returns with the momentary, polite expression you force upon your face at people you are about to share a very short subway ride for the first and last time. Still, others have found love on the subway too, Mona reminds her self. But he is a bit too, umm – thick for her. Face, arms, tummy – all too disproportioned. But one must not body shame anyone even in thought, she reprimands. Maybe he likes being this way.
The train has started to snake through the dark tunnels once again. Mona lowers her gaze to her cellphone, which is open to the New Yorker app. It’s her favorite (and only) magazine. The thick twenty-ish boy is still looking at her. She can feel his eyes on her – face, on her arms and then on her legs. She shifts in her seat; trying to flick away his crawling, almost sticky gaze then crosses her legs. But it is still there. Up and down it goes – knee to ankle, ankle to knee…crass, lustful, vulgar: like a wet tongue. Slurping. She shifts again. Shoots him a stare. If eyes could Taser the thick twenty-ish would be writhing in his seat right now, his convulsions from the thousands of volts pumping through his body would probably wake up the teen still asleep next to him. This thought-torture provides some temporary reprieve. She pulls on the hem of her skirt and goes back to her screen. In a moment the tongue has gone too. Mona still feels wet all over. Violated – in a way.
The subway is squeaking along on the dark rails in the pitch-black tunnels. There have been many suggestions for replacing these age-old cars but in a way, Mona is thankful the city never has enough money for it. She likes the feel of them. The maturity. Mona tells everyone that if you sit still you can feel the carriage sway side-to-side as it moves along it doesn’t move in a straight line, she would say, it moves in slim ovals. People don’t find as intriguing as she does. For now, Mona spies on the thick twenty-ish, from the corner of her eyes. He is busy with his phone. Phew.
But wait, why is he holding it at nearly ninety-degrees. One would hold their phone flat or slightly angled to read. He is not reading. No – he isn’t – no, no, no, – he is taking pictures. Pictures of her legs! Maybe a video. An image of Mona on some sleazy website flickers in her mind.
Mona glares up at him, but he is busy on his screen – with a perfect, go fuck yourself expression on his face. Panicked she looks at the women next to her, if only she could borrow her bag to place in front of her legs. As if picking up the quiet plea the woman turns to Mona, studies her face for a moment then in a whisper asks, if everything is ok. That man is taking my pictures, I am sure of it. Mona wants to say it all, everything, but the words seem stuck inside her. What if she is wrong? What if it causes a row? What if he is a killer? What…
“Hey, why you taking her pictures,” the older gentleman next to the twenty-ish speaks out loud.
“Mind your own business ol’ man,” he replies switching the phone off. His face twisted in a scowl – it kind of suits him.
“I saw you taking her pictures,” the gentleman says motioning with his head towards Mona. Other passengers standing and sitting nearby turn to stare at Mona and the twenty-ish.
“I saw him too,” the large woman says from beside Mona.
“How could you from there, you old hag,” he spits out.
“Hey what is going on back there,” the conductor cries out from his partition. This is the lead carriage; he is the operator he cannot turn to look behind. “What’s all the commotion?”
In a flash, the gentleman has grabbed the twenty-ish’s phone and sprung to his feet. With one hand on the overhead steel rail for balance, he is walking towards the conductor’s cabin.
“Hey that’s my phone, give it back here you…” the twenty-ish leaps after the old man.
“Sit Down!” another passenger standing nearby says sternly. Two others men look at him menacingly. They are way larger than him so the thick twenty-ish complies. Now visibly simmering in his own anger he glares at Mona. She looks away.
The gentleman has handed over the phone to the conductor, explained the situation and pointed out the culprit and the victim. The conductor has called for backup on his wireless. The subway is already entering the next station. In the commotion, he forgets to announce which station it is. Mona can see two burly cops making their way towards the platform. The train is slowing down.
The sleeping teen next to the twenty-ish is waking up. He stretches his arms in front of him. Yawns. The train stops. The doors y-ish go and he comes after her? There is another train departing from platform opposite, she barely makes it before the doors close – she doesn’t care where it’s going, as long as its away from here.
Back in the carriage, the boy who had been sleeping has been patting his pockets, looking on the seats next to him – where the fuck is his cellphone when two cops and the train’s conductor approach him.
“Is this your phone?” one of the cops asks, showing him his phone.
“Yes it is, thank you. How did you get this,” the boy asks; sleep still clinging at the corner of his eyes.
“Could you please open it?” the cop says.
“Please do as you are asked,” the cop says.
Passengers are filling into the carriage around this little show. There is no passcode on the phone the teen boy clicks it on. The screen opens to the picture gallery and images of legs spill out.
“What? Those aren’t mine,” the boy says. Now fully awake.
“Is this the man,” the cop asks turning towards the conductor. The conductor realizes that in all the commotion he had actually not had the chance to turn around and look at either the culprit or the victim. But since the phone is this boy’s, this must be the creep.
“Yes, it’s him,” the conductor says.
“You are coming with us sir, for harassing and disturbing passengers.”
“No, but…but I was asleep, I just woke up.”
“Is this your phone?” the cop asks once more.
“Yes, it is but I don’t know anything about the pictures,” the boy says almost blubbering the words.
“Please come with us.”
As the boy is led off the train passengers, glare and whisper about the pervert who had apparently been taking pictures of some girl’s legs. Serves him right – hope they put him in jail – each of their expressions seems to say.
Meanwhile, the thick twenty-ish is walking down the street above the station. He had made good his escape through a second door at the back of the carriage and had bounded up the steps out of the station. He is still savoring the taste of watching the girl with the shiny legs squirm. He should have just stolen the phone. Her legs were so smooth, though. He couldn’t help himself. Like he never could. He is oblivious to the innocent teen now sitting at the subway police station being written up for harassment. What does he care even if he knew? What does it matter if an innocent pays for his crimes – he shouldn’t have been sleeping – he should have been aware of his cell phone – he should have put a lock on his phone. Serves him right.
Credit: illustration by Mariah (M.S)