by Chandra Steele
You check for the train. You lean slightly over the edge but only just a bit. Enough to brace yourself. Because it’s not only being pushed, you figure.
There are the elderly women, blank-eyed to anything around them, three bags deep on either side—at least two of them capacious and plaid and plastic—fanned out like low-lying wings that could buffet you off the platform. There are the private dancers and singers, old-school headphones cupped over their ears, one shut-eyed moonwalk from plunging you to possible electrocution or death by locomotive. There are the gaggles of girls who in another time or place would be women but are now spike-heeled and the subject of all their own sentences, teetering dangerously on the hobnailed yellow strip, likely to take you down with them.
“Don’t push me!” you hear. You look past the stanchion you were prepared to grasp. An average girl with average hair and average clothes and average looks has distinguished herself. Arms flailing, phone in hand, body facing the train-less tunnel but her eyes and the tilt of her head accusing the woman behind her.
Why would this woman push anyone? She’s on the wrong end of suburbia and her 40s, elasticized jeans already in place. Her turtleneck has the same pattern of tightly spaced rosettes found on the underwear of five-year-old girls—neither should be seen in public.
“I said: Don’t push me!” And now you hate that you just witnessed this woman and her ashy blonde hair clearly not push this girl. Because if it’s not the shifting weight of her backpack combined with a resident paranoia, this girl could be looking for a cover story. A reason to throw herself in front of the train that just won’t arrive. Thirteen minutes already, seriously. And then you’d have to decide if you’d stick around to talk to the police or if you’d get on the train they’d send to the track behind you to take away the now-distressed platform of people from the suicide/murder scene, your choice. They’d have to send another train, right?
But the girl is alive for now and she’s yelling into her phone at such a sustained volume and pitch that you are sure some will mistake it as a demand to pray to Allah and face east and fall to their knees right there in the suffocating underground. “This motherfucker tried to push me! I will not calm down! Why are you judging me?” she yells into her phone.
Now the woman gets some chutzpah. “Why would I push her?” she says loudly to the man next to her. “I don’t even know this bitch.” You reassess. She’s not a tourist, she’s from New Jersey.
“You hate me!” the girl wails and it’s not clear who she’s addressing but you’re sure she’s right.
She must have meant the person on the phone because she now puts it in her pocket and whirls to face the woman. “Stop touching me!” she yells across the three-foot distance between them. You hear a rumble and instead of throwing herself in front of the train or preparing to board it, she stomps off toward the stairs. “I have bedbugs! And I hope you have them now, too!” The train‘s approaching. You look at everyone around you. And you want to push them over the edge, every last one.
Whatever else she’s doing, Chandra Steele should be writing because she has a novel to finish. But you can probably find her on Twitter instead (@ChanSteele). Chandra’s excuse is that she’s senior features writer at PCMag.com. Before that she was a semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Award and won the MTV Write Stuff competition. She’s drunk kvass and eaten Jesus Harvest Seeds and lived to tell people about it on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. In sum, Chandra is the only person who has managed to procrastinate writing by writing.