As the train rushed out of the station with a noisy clack and electric sizzle, he stopped running and stood on the platform breathing heavily.
He rubbed his temples and closed his eyes, feeling the rush of air as the cars shuddered past. The dirty air swirled around him, stifling him, but all he could think of was the rag-top that took him to work years before. The years before this city. Before this godforsaken train.
The platform didn’t stay empty long. Older women pulling carts full of vegetables sat at the benches. Spry younger men in their crisp business suits and women in dresses and yoga pants lined up by the yellow line. The digital placard read: HYDE SQUARE 2 MIN. He tried to remember the last time a train arrived on time.
She was listening to Top 40. For all the crazy tempos and false sentimental lyrics, it somehow relaxed her after a long day. None of it was necessarily her style, but she couldn’t quite remember what her style was anymore. The jeans and airy shirt she wore were her style - at least from a year or two ago.
Like she did twice a day, she found the witty airline or clothier ad on the opposite side of the tracks and stood in front of it, blankly staring. It was her spot.
He walked down the platform as people flooded in from above. He hated people. Loud, overbearing, and in a place like this they had no respect for personal space. He passed a harpist seated on a bench. She was playing the Mario Bros. theme song.
As the crowd thinned, he found a nice enough pillar to lean up against and stopped in front of some fancy video board playing a Macy’s ad. Next to it was an airline ad. Or a clothier. He couldn’t quite tell.
He leaned back to check the time to the next train. Two minutes. Still. As he leaned back into the pillar he awkwardly caught a woman’s eye. He snapped his gaze to his toes and pulled out his phone, acting preoccupied.
She was beautiful. Or at least he thought she was. It had only been a second, so he couldn’t be sure, but he didn’t dare take another look yet.
Fitted jeans. Loose top. Dark ringlets of hair framed her face. She was thin - he would say lithe. She looked tired. The second of eye contact said she was weary. He could relate.
She swiped through some social media feed looking at all her friends having babies or getting engaged. It felt like a new person everyday.
Something moved to her left and she looked up just in time to make eye contact with the guy to her left. She looked down quickly, greeted by the face of her high school best friend. A giant ring sat on her finger and a beaming smile on her face.
He wasn’t bad. Attractive enough. Thin. Narrow faced. His plaid shirt hugged his body and the rolled up sleeves revealed a series of tattoos. She thought he looked like a bike messenger. She didn’t forget him like she normally would - there was something that seemed to stick in her mind. The bags under his eyes. The attractive shell wrapped around a tired, tired soul.
She checked the train time just as the automated message told the whole station that the next train to Hyde Square was approaching.
The crowd began to spread out, dispersing along the whole length of the train platform. Carts full of fruit, some kid with a bike, and a lady in a motorized scooter moved past him to another spot further down.
The train zipped into the station with the squeal of brakes and a sound he could never place. It felt like someone slamming thousands of doors as fast as they could. It slowed to a stop and exhaled a sigh of relief.
Hundreds of people surged forward, finding the closest door and huddling in front of it. The doors opened and people steadily fell out.
He moved forward and stole a glance at her again as the last person left the car. Gorgeous. The curls were better than he remembered. Slightly tousled, one of them hovered over her eye.
Traffic pushed forward and he climbed on the already packed train. Grabbing a dangling hand hold, he stood near the back, some kid’s backpack digging into his back.
She moved forward with the traffic, catching the back of the guy she had seen earlier. She noticed he was more muscular than she had thought - subdued, but still powerful.
The train car was full by the time she boarded. Uncomfortably wedged between an overweight, sweaty man, and a couple hoodlums that were taking up more space than they should have, she ended up standing incredibly close to him - the kind of close that only happens on rush hour trains and moments before an impassioned kiss.
He smelled like off the shelf deodorant and high dollar cologne. The closer she stood, the more it swirled around her. It was like an old whisky: smooth, slightly woody, with a sharp aftertaste that begs for another sip; she knew the scent.
Someone nudged her from behind with an elbow and she bumped him, planting her shoulder in his chest. Shocked, she looked up as he was automatically in the middle of assuaging the contact.
Then he stopped, hand in mid-wave. His pupils widened. His cheeks reddened.
She said, “Sorry.”
He stumbled through saying, “No worries.”
She paused the booming bass of her Top 40.
He gathered himself, hoping she hadn’t seen him flush. They were so close, close enough that when the train rattled out of the station, she would bump him. For two strangers, they were uncomfortably close.
Each time they touched, they made eye contact. And each time they both darted their eyes in the opposite direction acting like it hadn’t happened. As each station passed, he hoped she wouldn’t leave. He wanted to see her curls, her soft brown eyes.
More people poured onto the train, replacing those that had left as the train hurtled towards his final destination one stop at a time.
Another train left the station, flying headlong towards the city center. The rails screeched as it turned sharply along the tracks, rattling out a tunnel into the open air. The conductor saw the other Metro train approaching and got ready to wave at his coworker.
The more the train clacked on, the more she made eye contact with him, the more she didn’t mind bumping him. She didn’t have much choice with some guy’s bike tire pushing her forward, but even if she did, it wouldn’t have bothered her much to run into him. Somehow being so close was comforting.
In another life they could’ve been friends. In another life, they may have had conversations that lasted longer than “sorry” and “no worries”. In another, better life.
The conductor lifted his hand to wave and felt a jolt as the train car heaved upward. His stomach turned as the car did too.
The car tilted on its side and careened through an electrical transformer. Sparks erupted as the lead car pushed forward, angled toward the opposite track. The conductor was dead. The train kept moving.
The brakes wailed, digging into the rails.
He almost fell backward into the businessman behind him, but held his ground by shifting his weight and holding fast.
A bike tire rammed into her leg and she lurched forward, planting her face into the guy’s chest. He held fast, but she heard him exhale quickly, tensing his arm to keep him upright.
An explosion shattered the monotonous sound of the train cars. Then came the screams. He could see in the car ahead of him, people were clambering about, pushing towards the car he was on. Frantic faces filled the windows, pounding on the glass. Then he saw it.
The yellow colored train car, sliding on its side, hurtled towards their train. There wasn’t much time. He didn’t hesitate.
Before she could resist, he had grabbed her hand and pulled her the four feet to the back of the train car, putting her back up against the door to the other cars. People began to scream and panic, bustling towards the exit and pounding on the doors. She caught a glimpse of the yellow train before it slid into the train car several ahead of her.
He held the rails on either side of the door she was pressed against. He was pressed against her hard. His arms strained with the pressure he was exerting, trying to keep their bodies as close and as stable as possible against the door. She wrapped her hands around his head and neck, hiding her head in his chest. She could barely breathe.
There was a heart-wrenching shriek followed by a moment of silence. For that silence they felt weightless. Then the train buckled.
Their car halted and lifted on its end as the rest of the cars compressed like an accordion. They were suspended in the air as the car teetered to one side, lolled, then fell as cars ahead exploded.
The shockwave rocked their car as each car from the opposite train came in contact with others, crumpling or exploding. Their car was on its side, bottom towards the other charging cars.
He had held strongly throughout, holding them both solidly against the door, but he was tired and struggling to breathe as smoke began to roll in.
She gasped for breath, trying to get rid of the stars dancing in her vision.
Another train car hit.
They both tumbled against the people, bikes, and fruit carts as their train car rolled from the force of the other train. Glass cut them, smoke stung their throats and loose objects bruised them. Then the car stopped rolling, it’s roof planted on the ground. The train’s metal shell groaned as what windows remained blew out, throwing glass everywhere.
In the mass of people laying on the train’s roof, he lay dazed, limbs akimbo. Her head was spinning, but she was next to him, spread eagle.
Explosions still rocked the expanse around them and their train car still lurched a small amount. Aluminum moaned and dented as people started to stand and move around. Shrieks and cries filled the air. The scream of steel had stopped and, presumably, so had the charging train. Fire crackled in the distance.
He wiggled his fingers and arms, mentally making sure they were all there and operational.
She put a hand to her head, softly pressing her skull to make sure everything was okay.
They made eye contact.