Sometimes you have later than expected vaccine side effects and feel pretty crummy and just can’t seem to write. Here’s a story from a few years ago that’s been on my mind lately as I think about all the parts of the city I miss so much. See you next Wednesday. —AEM
Thursday was my first day back at work after a week off and I was drained by early afternoon. I made it through the day but by the time it was time to go home, I was feeling my joints hurt and my head hurt and I just wished I didn’t have to commute. I got to the subway station only to find the leftovers of an eastbound delay and waited in a sea of people or the next train. I noticed it came in the opposite side that everyone was expecting so I slipped quickly to the opposite side of the platform and waited where one of the doors was to open. I waited for everyone to get off the train and slipped into a seat. I watched the train fill and I hoped no one would sit next to me; I was tired and cranky and I just didn’t want any kind of human contact. With the delays, there’s no such luck and a shaky elderly black man comes and sits next to me. He’s lovely and does nothing irritating at all but anything would have bugged me right then.
We leave the station and go two stops when he shakily stands and smiles at me before getting off at Victoria Park. It’s hectic at this stop and I look to my right where he was sitting when the two teenage girls sitting near us realize at the same time as I do that the man sitting next to me left his bag.
“HEY!” The taller girl yells. “You forgot your bag!”
I grab the bag and we both push through the crowd to get to the doors but no one will move and the doors close before we can reach them. We sit back down with the other girl and open up the bag and start to look through for any sign of the man who left it behind. His wallet, his keys, his phone, everything. My heart sinks when I think of him panicking and wondering where his bag is and trying to get home without any of his things.
“Maybe we should try to give it to a TTC employee?” One of the girls says with her beautiful brows knitted together in concern.
“He might not get it till tomorrow though,” I said. “What if he can’t get into his house?”
They groaned at the thought and we all sat through two more subway stops looking through his bag for what we knew we should do. I thought about how much my hips and wrists were hurting; then I thought about what my reaction would be if I left my whole bag on the subway.
“I’m going to go back,” I said. “Maybe I can find him.”
“Really?” The taller girl said.
“Yeah. I just don’t know what else to do and at least I can leave it with staff where he was getting off so even if he’s not there, he must live or be visiting near there. I don’t know.”
“No, that makes sense,” said brow girl. “I think that’s a good idea.”
We got to Coxwell a minute later and I waved as I took the bag and got off the train. The girls shouted good luck to me as the doors closed. I ran down the subway stairs and across and up the stairs to the eastbound platform. I paced as I waited for the next train and continued to do so once I was on it. It was only three stops totaling maybe ten minutes but it feels like hours. I’m so anxious with my heart in my throat and I keep praying that I find him. I lean against the plastic divider by the train doors to rest my hips.
I finally arrive at Victoria Park station and scan the opposite platform for this man to no luck. Fuck. I run downstairs to where the information booth and entrances and exits are and I turn the corner and I see him. There’s two transit employees and a mom-aged woman with him and the man looked so small and scared.
“I have it!” I shouted as I half walked half ran towards them. “I found it.”
The man looked at me and remembered me right away and he sees the bag in my arms and he starts to cry. I hand it to him and he takes it and puts it aside and hugs me so hard. I can feel his jagged breathing as we hug and I can feel him begin to calm down. I’m so out of breath and I’m so shocked and I’m so glad I found him. The employees and the woman with them are asking me questions and saying things but it’s just an overwhelming sea of words at that point.
“You found it?”
“You came back!?”
“Where was it?”
“You’re an angel! Sir, you have an angel!”
“You didn’t just give it to someone else?”
“Good for you!”
I don’t even know how I answered, I just felt quite overcome with emotion and relief. The man asked me for my name and my address and I said no no, please, it’s no trouble at all. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and pressed $40 in my hand and insisted I take it. I felt weird about taking his money but I didn’t want to make him feel bad. He hugged me, the employees hugged me, the mom-aged lady hugged me, another lady who was collecting items for charity and was witness to everything hugged me. I’m still not crying, I’m just so shocked. We all make sure the older man is ok to get home and I leave to get on the train to go home. As soon as the train doors close behind me, I sit and I start crying so hard. I am so emotional and amped and I just can’t stop crying. A young guy sitting next to me holding a bouquet of roses gives me a little nod as if to say “hey, it’s ok” and I think it makes me cry even more.
I finally get off the train at my station near home and there’s this homeless woman sitting just inside the subway station who has the kindest eyes and is always singing old spirituals. She has asked me for change before and I never have any cash or I feel awkward for some reason or some combination of these two things. She doesn’t say anything to me this time. Without even thinking about it, I walk up to her and give her the $40 I have in my pocket. She starts crying and I start crying again.
“I hope it helps.” I say this as I wipe my nose.
I walk out of the subway station and wait at the light at Sherbourne to cross. I’m wiping my red puffy face and the light changes and I start walking across. I’m looking down to make sure not to trip on any construction and I look up halfway across the intersection to see the two teenage girls from the train walking towards me.
“Holy shit.” I said as they turned and walked with me to the corner.
We got to the sidewalk and hugged; a thought slipped my mind that I had never hugged this many strangers before in one day, let alone an hour or so. Of all the things that had happened, of all the 69 subway stations in this city, of all the crosswalks in the city, it was at this one, at mine. I told them I regretted not getting their info to let them know how things went and they agreed, realizing they should have as soon as I got off the train.
“I was worried you were going to think I stole his stuff!” I laughed.
“Nah, we were actually saying how trustworthy you seemed,” the tall girl said.
They were relieved and happy at how things went and we hugged before parting. The sky looked like it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to rain or not so I walked home quickly. My hands were shaking the whole way home and I don’t really know why. It feels weird and presumptuous to say I feel lucky about what happened but I am. It’s so rare to feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. And it’s weird to feel like you have a choice but also that there’s not really a choice. And I don’t really feel like a good person most of the time or at least, not someone who goes out of their way or thinks of others first but maybe I’m better than I thought; maybe most people are. That’s a good feeling to hold onto these days.